Week 13: The Handmaid’s Tale


We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability?

Apparently I’m in the mood for dystopian. Read into that what you will.

I reread The Handmaid’s Tale as part of #handmaidreadalong over on Twitter, hosted by the fabulous Kaeley over at Spoilers May Apply. (Side note: readalongs are my favorite things ever. So much fun.)

But this is definitely not Young Adult. Handmaid’s Tale is so much scarier than The Hunger Games, in my opinion, because Atwood details a world that’s way more plausible. Along the narrative we see just how subtle the changes were, how easily written off, until they weren’t subtle at all. We see just how these atrocities happened.

We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.

This is the story of Offred, who lives in the Republic of Gilead. The ROG has replaced at least a part of the former United States with a terrifying Theocracy.  It’s a bizarre twist on the Bible story of Leah and Rachel – and their maids.  Offred is a Handmaid, which means she is assigned to a husband and wife who cannot have children, basically as breeding stock. It’s as sickening as it sounds.
The story is told in an almost stream-of-consciousness way, with flashbacks to Offred’s life before the ROG took over, her life being trained to become a Handmaid, and her life as a piece in this new world.

The flashbacks are disturbing. Offred (not her real name) lives in a world where agency and humanity has been robbed from women. They’re reduced to objects. But before, she had a husband and a child and a job she chose. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good… until the ROG decided to tear apart her family because they weren’t righteous enough. All because her husband was in his second marriage.

We thought we had such problems. How were we to know we were happy?

Offred is forced into a new role, without any knowledge of the fate of her husband, who’s likely dead, and her daughter – who, if she’s lucky, is being raised by another family. And as her “commander”, the man to whom she’s supposed to provide a child, says:

Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.

Because of the way the story is told, I can’t really talk about much without spoilers, but suffice it to say that this book is chilling. It actually takes place in (what used to be) Boston, and the buildings of Harvard are featured prominently. This just adds to the realism. Offred is carrying about her new duties in a city that she used to belong in. Now she doesn’t belong anywhere, she just belongs to the commander and his scary wife.

I still really enjoyed reading it.

Maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word. This book is important. Atwood delivers great social commentary on what could happen if people don’t speak up about changes that alarm them. If you’re interested in feminist fiction, this is a great start.

But it’s going to make you angry.

Rereadable: yes, but for the sake of my sanity, probably not often. If you’re interested in the new show that’s premiering on Hulu next month, I highly recommend.

And, as always:

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.