The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Genre(s): Dystopian, classic, feminist
Number of pages: 324
Publish date: February 17, 1986
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The Handmaid’s Tale is not only a radical and brilliant departure for Margaret Atwood, it is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population.
The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.
This book has been on my to-read list for quite a long time. Like, four years long. Not going to lie, I forced myself to finally pick it up because the TV show was coming out in May of this year, so I had to read it before I saw the series. Holy cow, there is so much going on here! It’s also kinda frightening because though it is pretty far off from our current society, it really would not take too many steps with the wrong people in power to get there. But, no more of my political views, this is a book blog after all.
The narrator, Offred, used to be a normal U.S. woman, but that all changed when the Republic of Gilead took over. She is no longer allowed to read, speak her mind, and must hope that somehow she becomes pregnant. She, at first, is just trying to survive with her new way of life, keeping her head down and staying away from anything that causes trouble. Slowly but surely, she begins to break away from the status quo. Nothing too overt at first, but then she is off doing highly illegal things that would get her hung should anyone find out.
Honestly, the only thing I could think while I was reading this is how terrified I would be. There’s no possible way that it was easy for Offred to stand up like that, but when you get to the point where risking your life is better than living with your head down, you know something is wrong. I applaud the way Atwood was able to portray a strong woman in such a society. The theocracy taken to the extreme is very disturbing, and Atwood was still able to create a character that so many people identify with. The handmaid costume has also become very symbolic, and I have to say the book is considered a classic for a reason.
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