The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
reviewed by Isabella Durand
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood reveals an insight into a world where the population is dangerously low and women are deprived of all rights. In this dystopian novel, where women do not have control of their actions, bodies, or lifestyle, it is still relevant to today’s society and will be for years to come. Readers are informed of the events that happened in the city of Gilead by the narrator of this story, only known to us as Offred, and from her, we saw her world through her own perspective. Because of this, we are not even sure that what Offred is describing to us is completely true, but from what we can gather, that world is a place where no one wants to belong. This piece of dystopian-science fiction is dangerously close to a reality that might not be so far away and in reading this piece, really changes your perspective on our world today.
In the Republic of Gilead, the regime believes in a government where religion and politics come together, and this theocratic society, it mainly affects the women who inhabit this terrifying area. Because of these beliefs and style of government, women are not allowed to vote, read, write, or love, and for the Handmaids, life is even worse. To society, they are only vessels to carry children and help increase the population; they have no control over their lives. They are assigned to a distinguished couple and the Handmaid’s job is to conceive a child with the male, in Offred’s case, the Commander. They are forced to succumb to the wishes that other people have implanted into their minds and have to do exactly as they are told. This is why Offred is so important. Besides being the heroine in this novel, she realizes that what is happening is wrong, even if she can’t express the dialogue thoughts to actually come to this conclusion. Offred leads the plot of the story into different directions and through her actions, alters the course of her life. She went through ups and downs, accomplishments and failures, saw horrific events, made some mistakes, and eventually, took control of some of her actions. She was able to take the reigns of her life and actually make some choices for herself, even if they are not the best ones.
Laced throughout her novel, Atwood uses similar themes and motifs relating to the corrupted world in which the novel takes place to help the story flow. While reading The Handmaid’s Tale, women’s bodies and political opinions became a common theme throughout the story. Handmaids have no control over their bodies, and as previously mentioned, are like a vessel. Also, the regime running Gilead don’t care about women, only as long as they help the population increase. The events during the 1970s, when feminists made huge accomplishments for all women, were quickly forgotten and The Handmaid’s Tale shows the result of the depravity of these said rights. What is upsetting is the fact that, because women are only seen for their role in helping the population, they forget the joys of their previous life and only see themselves as a carrier. We the realization of her old life, Offred criticizes herself for wearing shorts or a swimsuit because, in Gilead, women seen dressed in clothes that were “revealing” are considered disgusting for the fact that they took appreciation of their bodies. Another theme is the titles and their roles, especially for women. Men have are given a military rank, for example the Commander, while women are reduced to stereotypical gender roles, such as Wives and Handmaids. They have been deprived of their names and are reduced to their position, not allowing any self-identity. Children who are deformed are given the title “Unbabies” and feminists are called “Unwomen”; these derogatory titles make you forget that they are human. Finally, an important motif in this theocratic government is the use of religious teachings and the way they change them to reflect their desires. The Commander reads Bible passages to Offred before they are to go to his room, but they are all passages twisted to reflect the needs of the government, almost as to justify their actions. Offred realizes this and even recognized that some of the passages that were told to them are not even from the Bible. The use of religion and politics is thoughtfully displayed and exemplified through the words of Margaret Atwood.
The tales of Offred seem so far-fetched and yet, in their own way, reflect today’s world, ultimately making this story so horrific. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of Offred, a slave to the government, forced to play their rules. She is treated like an object who is only useful if she can become pregnant, and who also has to forget her old life. She remembers the days she would be with her husband and daughter, but now, everything is different. Her view on the world has been completely rearranged and her life is altered. This novel is her reflection on her own life, narrated by herself because her story is the one aspect of her life that she can control. We don’t know Offred very well because what we do know about her is based off of her description of herself, seen through her own opinion. In this dark tale, Offred finds comfort and nostalgia the memories of her life which helped her guide her actions.
In my opinion, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone living in today’s world because of the fact that is was made to reflect our own society. Thankfully, I have never experienced any of the traumas that Offred has to endure, but when reading this novel, it is hard not to picture yourself living in her situation. If you want another look at what the world could be like, or feminism is your thing, I believe that this is a novel that you will appreciate. One of my favorite lines comes from Offred’s “reconstruction” of some of the events in her life, speaking to herself in her head and addressing whoever would listen, she says, “...please remember: you will never be subject to the temptation or feeling you must forgive, a man, as a woman… But remember that forgiveness too is power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.” She just wanted to leave her life as a Handmaid and was willing to forgive. Being the narrator of the story, she would tell it to herself and always hoped that someone would listen even though nobody could, or so she thought.