The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodPublished by Anchor Book (A Division of Random House)
Originally published in 1985
Paperback, 311 pages
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining fertility, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…
What a strange book! I’m still not sure if I really enjoyed it or not. While reading, I had so many questions that were never answered. I wanted to know more about Gilead and how it was created. I wanted to learn about the society prior to Gilead. Why was there such a disdain for women? How did the Commanders come into power and how they were able retain it? The historian in me really wanted to know the how’s and why’s. In the end, a few questions were answered for me; the main one being why the limited perspective from the Handmaid. But there were not enough answers for me.
The descriptions of how the Handmaids lived are very powerful. There was such resignation, desolation, and tremendous sadness. The great lengths the Commanders and their Wives went to prevent Handmaid suicides was truly disturbing. The monthly visits were brutal to read. The triangle between the Commander, Serena Joy and Offred was very disconcerting. Ms. Atwood is a great writer who can really convey emotion or the lack thereof. Offred’s efforts of detachment from the whole impregnation efforts were so very sad.
There is an intense feeling of claustrophobia that runs throughout the entire book. The handmaids are basically caged until they were needed by the Commanders. The constant fear that all citizens felt, also, ran throughout the book. No one was really safe. Paranoia was a constant companion to all. The Eyes see everything. In this way, The Handmaid’s Tale, reminded me of 1984, very fatalistic.
Even though fear runs rampant, rebellion is always just beneath the surface. It seems no one really accepted the severe rules of Gilead. Each character, in their own way, would try to grasp at any ounce of freedom they could; whether by reading a fashion magazine or smoking a cigarette. No one was really happy.
In the end, this tale was very strange and sad. Margaret Atwood is a wonderful writer and her descriptions were very intense and poignant. However, I found the story very disturbing and too many questions went unanswered.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars