The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s TaleThis is a bleak look at a possible future. It is well told, frightening in its feel of reality. A new military force has taken over the North American country, a fundamental religious organization. Everyone is under surveillance. Offenders of any laws are prosecuted. But the worse part is the roles of women.
There has been some sort of environmental disaster that the majority of women cannot have children. Women become second class citizens as their rights and property are seized and given over to men. More laws, more infringements, more subjugations…the United States gives over to a new form of government where it is not possible to think on your own or follow a path of your choosing, men or women.
Women are separated into separate groups. This novel is told by a “handmaid”, Offred, one of the select group of women who may still be able to bear healthy children. She lives a cloistered life with a commander (of what she never discovers) and his wife. Her role is to have a baby for them to keep and raise. She would then go to another commander to fulfill the same function, and continue on with this as long as possible. Poorer, non-fertile women become “marthas”, the household domestics. Men are military. They fight in the war against countries like Cuba or they are on strict duty in the cities keeping anyone from escaping. They are not allowed near the women without strict regulations and chaperonage.
Offred not only describes her present with all its restrictions, but also the past, before. We learn from her point of view (it is first person narrative) what happened to the country and to the women. We learn how the rules were enforced. We learn the differences between the haves and have nots.
This is an excellent dark book. It is a warning of what could happen. I found myself caught up in Offred’s world. I tried to imagine her constraints but couldn’t. I cannot envision a world where I am not allowed to read, for example. She is caught in the web the world sets up. She is subject to the commander and his wife. If they want her to something that breaks a law, she is damned if she does (if caught) and damned if she doesn’t (they can make her life worse than it already is). This is not the type of book that sends chills down your spine. But it does send chills to your soul.