The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale is absolutely terrifying, and when I turned the final page I was grateful — grateful that this is not my life. It’s scary how plausible this world is, how this has actually happening in other countries.

“I wish this story were different. I wish it were more civilized. I wish it showed me in a better light, if not happier, then at least more active, less hesitant, less distracted by trivia. I wish it had more shape. I wish it were about love, or about sudden realizations important to one’s life, or even about sunsets, birds, rainstorms, or snow…

I’m sorry there is so much pain in this story. I’m sorry it’s in fragments, like a body caught in a crossfire or pulled apart by force. But there is nothing I can do to change it.”

Offred is a handmaid, or, in her own words, “a uterus on two legs.” It’s her job to present The Wife, and the country of Gilead, with a child. Her name — her real name — has been lost; she’s only known as “Offred,” a combination of “of” and “Fred.” I can’t tell you how long it took me to figure that out, but it means that women are property. Handmaids have no identity. Yet, Offred remembers life when she had a husband, Luke, and a daughter, who was taken to be someone else’s child, and what it was like to wear short skirts and running shoes rather than a red dress that screams to everyone who sees her that she’s a baby factory by trade.

“I am thirty-three years old. I have brown hair. I stand five seven without shoes. I have trouble remembering what I used to look like. I have viable ovaries. I have more chance.” (pg. 143)

Women can also be Marthas, servants in the houses of important men; Wives, bitter women angry over the shame of marriages and the chronically unfaithfulness of their husbands, which is required by the government, but still yearn to be mothers; prostitutes; or handmaids, which is worse than prostitution because their sole purpose is procreation and they’re forced to give up the children they have. Handmaids are given three chances to have a child before they are banished as “Unwomen.” Ironic ally, the majority of Wives cannot have children, yet are not “unwomen.”

“You are a transitional generation, said Aunt Lydia. It is the hardest for you. We know the sacrifices you are being expected to make. It is hard when men revile you. For the ones who come after you, it will be easer. They will accept their duties with willing hearts.

She did not say: Because they will have no memories, of any other way.

She said: Because they won’t want things they can’t have.” (pg. 117)

There are a few things I disliked about this book. Atwood’s writing is a little clunky with things progressing a little too rapidly, and I’m still not sure how I much I like Offred’s story being told in first person with a large amount of commentary. It’s almost like Atwood couldn’t make up her mind as to how to tell the story, and while it’s supposed to be the transcripts of tapes, there’s still something off about it — like Offred was telling her into a tape recorder as it was happening.

It’s still eerie and thought-provoking, a book I think is important to read. However, The Handmaid’s Tale could have used a bit more fleshing out as some of the details aren’t clear and the narrative a little clunky and jumpy.

Balance of Opinion:

Book Mentioned:

  • Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor, 1998. Originally published 1985. Print. 311 pgs. ISBN: 9780385490818. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Anchor Books. Retrieved: May 8, 2009.

5 comments

  1. I read this a few years ago. Loved it. It’s been too long to comment on what bothered you. For me, the circumstances of their lives and how I plausible she made that world outweighed the shortcomings for me.

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  2. It’s been so long since I’ve read this book that I can’t really remember the writing style. Everything that I’ve read by Atwood has been so different thematically and stylistically, though. This was my first and I loved it, but it was so different from anything I had read before (didn’t know about dystopian lit until recently).

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  3. I read this back in highschool in Grade 11 English, and I think it was a great book for me at the time. I had read one other Atwood book previously which I absolutely loathed, so I didn’t have high hopes going into this one, but I wound up finding it very engaging and thoughtful. It isn’t a subtle book, and yet it didn’t come across like a rant, so I think that’s worth something.

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  4. I read this one in college and loved it, though it did freak me out. It certainly gives you much to ponder, especially since she tells the story in such a way that it doesn’t feel too far-fetched.

    –Anna

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