‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood


‘The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one option: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire- neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
Brilliantly conceived and executed,  this powerful evocation of twenty-first century America gives full rein to Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit and astute perception.’

Margaret Atwood is the sort of well known author that I first heard about so long ago that I feel as if I have always known her name, despite the fact this was the first time I had ever read any of her works. I was inspired to read The Handmaid’s Tale by the new American TV adaptation that has recently started showing. I heard about an interview with the cast where they shied away from calling the story a feminist one despite the fact Atwood is well known as being a feminist author. It was almost as if they considered the word to be negative and that it would make people not want to watch the show, which irritated me. As a proud feminist, the fact they were so reluctant to use that label stopped me from wanting to watch the show, so I decided to turn my attention to the book instead.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the way it showed the divide between men and women. To have the clueless, self centred role of men in the story be shown through the blundering Commander and his weak defense of the treatment of women as a necessary evil in the process of creating a better world was so poignant and real for me. Men were not only responsible for enslaving women but also their fellow men and had the audacity to claim that the world was better for it just because they were better off. It captured the male entitlement perfectly and grounded the whole story for me, making it utterly believable and never far fetched.

The character of Moira was absolutely fascinating but I was so disheartened by our last view of her. The fact she had seemingly given up and found her place in this society that I had hoped she would struggle against to the end was disappointing to me, as someone who loved her inner strength and spark. It felt like the fearless Moira who had executed a daring escape from the aunts and had almost escaped from Gilead had been crushed by the weight of this new brand of patriarchy and it was so depressing. I was left in the awkward and slightly confusing position of realising that I would honestly rather she had died in some defiant blaze of glory than succumb to the new kind of patriarchal society that had been born.

  I found the concept of this book especially interesting because it is one of the first books I’ve come across that takes place after some form of nuclear war and yet doesn’t involve a The Road style nomadic existence that features cannibalism and murder. Instead, society continues but is instead changes its ideas of women. Women stop being symbols of wealth and status to own but instead become nothing more than their wombs. They are not sexual objects anymore, but nothing more than baby making machines that are there to serve the men.

I think one of the most intriguing aspects of this book, for me, is the relationship Gilead must have with the rest of the world. The only reference to a country outside Gilead in Offred’s present tense monologue is the colonies, when unwomen are sent.  But the sheer volume of contraband that Offred comes into contact with such as magazines, cigarettes and the costumes women at Jezebels wear would indicate that there must be some world beyond Gilead that has continued without adapting their harsh new laws. What do people who live there think of Gilead? Do they know about the handmaids? Would they try to save them, or shrug their shoulders as so many world leaders do at the signs of innocent suffering in the world today and claim it’s not their problem?

I loved reading this book, it was so thought provoking and provided such a unique world to delve in to.  I would never want to live in Gilead, but I would read everything I could about it.



3 thoughts on “‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood

  1. That seems very strange to me that the cast of a show based on such a powerful novel written by a self-professed feminist would avoid the word. Then again, they probably were told not to use it so as to avoid upsetting the least common denominator in TV demographics. It also occurs to me that you refer to the protagonist as Moira while I unintentionally called her Offred in my review. Definitely something for me to reflect on. Fantastic review!


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