The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
reviewed by Julieanna Gonzalez
Critically acclaimed author Margaret Atwood, tells of the dystopian life in the society of Gilead, in her horrifyingly realistic science fiction novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Her novel follows Offred, a Handmaid serving The Commander and his barren wife after the United States has fallen victim to a steep decrease in births. In the collapse of the Nation and the rise of the republic of Gilead, the government has stripped away all women’s rights, forcing those with viable ovaries to become Handmaids and bear children for their Commanders. Offred explains that the women in Gilead were, “ladies in reduced circumstances. That is what we are now. The circumstances have been reduced; for those of us who still have circumstances” (Atwood 8), because of the overly powerful Authoritarian government. Handmaids are never allowed to break the laws, express passionate feelings, show their bodies or faces and can never leave the position of a handmaid, or else they would be executed. Offred however, remembers her previous life of the years before, when she could live her life as she pleased and had a family and a job. But when everything she once knew changes in the blink of an eye, Offred is left in search of answers in a society where she is never allowed to go against the status quo, or else she could risk her life. Unsettling, sharply witted, evocative and scarily realistic, The Handmaid’s Tale is a haunting reminder of what modern society may one day retrogress to.
The Handmaid’s Tale deals heavily with the subjects of extreme authoritarian power, oppression of women, denatured sexuality and severe religious regimes. Atwood is especially keen in making the reader visualize the horrors these Handmaids have to endure, by using graphic imagery and impactful word choice that make the reader fully experience the raw human emotions of the characters. Atwood does not hold back in describing grotesque scenes with sickeningly vivid and graphic details, because it creates a stark contrast between the highly desensitized mindset of the people of Gilead and disturbing situations which are occurring within. She grips the reader with her mysterious and chilling writing style, full of seemingly innocent metaphors with dark underlying twists that put the reader on edge. Atwood’s characters are multi-faceted, and mysterious, especially Offred, who has incredibly frank, tongue in cheek narrations throughout the novel. Offred stands out from the other unsettlingly docile Handmaids, because she is highly sarcastic and rash in her thoughts and actions, but has very realistic, complex and deep emotions. She brushes with dangerous concepts and situations during the course of the novel, so she can keep alive the remaining sliver of humanity she still holds within her.
Though Atwood wrote this novel over three decades ago, she makes the realities of the modern world very fresh and apparent in her highly controversial dystopian novel, that puts trends like the current political climate and the state of women’s reproductive rights, into a scarily real perspective. The Handmaid’s tale was a very intense read with uncomfortable topics and content that may be very difficult to fathom for some readers. I do advise that this novel has graphic and disturbing content, so any reader who feels uncomfortable with these subjects should steer clear. However, I highly recommend The Handmaid’s Tale, to avid readers of dystopian science fiction, and fans of enigmatic and complex female protagonists, because of the gripping storyline and dark, unexpected twist and turns of the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, because of Margaret Atwood’s extremely refreshing and horrifying take on highly controversial subjects. I was completely engrossed by the intense and multi-layered characters, climatic action and shocking and swift plot twists of The Handmaid’s Tale.