I recently tackled The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This was my first time reading a novel by the respected and revered Atwood, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course I knew her name, but I was unfamiliar with her actual work. After reading The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m curious to learn more about her and her other books. As Hulu is set to release a television series based on The Handmaid’s Tale this April and some women recently wore handmaid’s robes to the Texas Senate, you’ll probably be hearing about this book, originally published in 1985, quite a bit.
Here’s what Goodreads tells readers about the book:
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 births, 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…
It’s hard to say that I “liked” this book, because it made me feel anxious, on edge, and desperate for more information. The narrator held back a lot, in fear for her safety, but I wish more of the gaps could have been filled. I definitely wanted to know more about the world she was living in and the history behind it. Then again, this made me want to keep reading and my imagination was spinning with all the possibilities. This is a grown up version of a sci-fi(ish), dystopian story. Basically, the government has been replaced by an ultra-religious governing body which has stripped women of their jobs, money, privacy, and dignity. Why do people go along with it? Well, as the narrator’s mother says, “Humanity is so adaptable…Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.” Words that are ominous and thought-provoking, for sure.
In our current political climate – women ridiculed for rallying and voicing their concerns on many important topics, attempts to defund programs that provide quality medical care, advice, and contraception for women, government officials who claim to be Christians yet strip others of their basic human rights – Atwood’s book feels more cautionary and relevant than ever. Sales of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 may have gone up since Trump took office, but The Handmaid’s Tale makes me even more terrified of what would happen if, say, Mike Pence became president.
Our current president may have campaigned under the slogan “Make America Great Again,” but as Atwood writes, “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”