A Handmaid's Tale

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handmaid.gif

Margaret Atwood

GENRES:
Sci-Fi, Feminist, Dystopian

SUMMARY:
Offred is a Handmaid, valued more for her viable ovaries than as a person. In this bleak vision of the future, the Republic of Gilead has instituted a severe right-wing society, distinctly categorizing women based on their reproductive abilities. Due to excessive use of birth control and radiation from nuclear fallout, the population is dwindling as infertility among woman becomes normal. Fertile women are instantly segregated as Handmaids to be used by wealthy couples desiring a child. Infertile women are either wives to wealthy or influential men, or they are sent to radiation mines where they die quickly.

Offred used to have a career, a husband, and a child, but all that is over as she gets assigned to the Commander and his wife. Allowed out once a week to attend the market, she has essentially gone from being a person to a piece of property.

Once a month she is a participant in a ritual with the Commander and his wife that grostesquely parodies her previous experiences with sex. Anxious to put an end to the ritual and become pregnant, Offred finds solace with one of the Commander's employees. It is with him that she uncovers an underground movement allowing women and families to escape the smothering Republic. Risking everything and nothing, Offred attempts to break free of the shackles placed on her by a society desperate to survive its death.

RESPONSE:
I adored this book, but at the same time I was horrified by it. Atwood creates a very realistic state in which women are completely subjugated by their reproductive states. The premise might seem a bit far-fetched in plot description, but Atwood uses conservative rhetoric so well that the novel becomes chillingly plausible. Although this novel took place in the future, it reminded me greatly of past (and, unfortunately, current) oppression of women, particularly in the insistence in some cultures that women have limited access to knowledge. It was quite disheartening how realistic the Republic seemed despite the fact that it represented a future that didn't learn or acknowledge its past.

Offred was a believable hero. Despite my desire to see her rebel and blatantly defy the status quo, that wouldn't have been realistic . Instead, Offred is meekly obedient until she has learned and gained enough to risk a free life.

The Commander's wife was a wonderful foil to Offred. Even though she had more physical freedom, she was bound in chains just as tightly as the Handmaids. Essentially, the wife existed solely through her husband. She knew little of what he did to earn money; she was not allowed to have her own career or pursuits outside of the home. She was a trophy figure for wealth and power. She had to endure a ritual every month in which she lay underneath the Handmaid while her husband had sex with her. This degradation took its toll in an unspoken, increasing bitterness towards Offred.

POINT BLANK:
A must-read for fans of dystopian sci-fi. A should-read for everyone else.