Handmaid’s Tale (Book Review)

The Handmaid’s Tale has been making a resurgence in literary and progressive circles recently as a Hulu television series based on it premiered this year. More recently, rally’s have popped up in support of Planned Parenthood Supporters staged a Handmaid’s Tale style protest against the proposed Health Care bill.


So what is the Handmaid’s Tale about, and how does it relate to today?

Written by Maragret Atwood in 1985, the book chronicles a dystopian future based on religious extremism and patriarchal dictatorship. When I first started reading the book, I was a little bit lost in all the science fiction, and new names. But after continuing to read, I learned to trust the author to explain all the questions I had in time. And when the answers are explained, they are eerily applicable to our time and our culture in America, even though the world that Atwood writes about seems so far off.

The story is told by Offred, a Handmaid in the society of Gilead (which is understood to be the US in the future). There has been an excess of environmental contamination in the country, and birth rates have become extremely low. Because of this, women’s freedoms are stripped away as the burden of continuing the human race is placed on them.

“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

Aunt Lydia is one of the “Aunts” who train Offred in her new life. The stripping of women’s rights has taken place at rapid speed, and it’s up to women to educate other women on their new roles in society. However, the society of Gilead is still a patriarchy, with draconian gender norms from various cultures and religions of the world pulled together to make women as disposable as they are central to the continuing of the human race.

“There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two–legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices,” Atwood writes.

During Offred’s time as a Handmaid, she strikes up somewhat of a forbidden relationship with her Commander (the man she is to be impregnated by). He is a high up official in the Gilead regime, and Offred asks a few questions as she gets comfortable. Why did they do it? Why is the world like it is today?
 “We only wanted to make the world better… Better never means better for everyone,” the Commander tells Offred.
This book is eerily relevant to the struggles taking place around women’s rights today in America. It’s worth reading if only for a chilly reminder of how fast things can change, and how working for change today is the only option, because you might not have the freedom to work for change in the future.

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