Thursday, May 19, 2011

THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood


A woman is relegated to the role of breeder in a dystopian pseudo-biblical society.


Margaret Atwood's well-known story explores a nation in which a woman's exclusive purpose is to bear children; not to raise them or care for them, just bear them. She creates a world where women have lost their hard-won rights and are confined to color-coded roles. The narrator of the story has the role of a handmaid who, like Abraham's Hagar, is forced to serve as a surrogate mother for a powerful couple. She is enslaved by her biological capabilities and must struggle against the society's insistence that the only valuable aspect of her womanhood is her body.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this story is that the narrator can remember what life was like before the dystopian society arose. She had a life full of freedoms and loved ones and education, so she knows exactly what she is missing under the new order. Future generations of women would have an easier time in their restricted roles because they would not know just how different their lives could be. The author emphasizes that women should not forget the fragility of their positions and suggests that it is all too easy to accept a reduced place in the world.

The novel is framed as a fragmented retelling of the woman's experiences. Atwood revels in the art of storytelling, and reminds the reader than any story is necessarily a reconstruction of the truth. The narrator sometimes offers several different versions of the same event and some of the scenes are out of sequence. This form highlights the subjective nature of storytelling and of history itself. It is not a pleasant novel to read, but it is a thought-provoking and intelligent work.



$8 for the Kindle edition


This book was published in the mid 1980's. Do you think that any of Atwood's fears about the future of women's rights have been realized in that last 25 years?


  1. Loved this book so much. Want to read more by her

  2. I loved this one. I think attitudes about women's rights have deteriorated a bit in the past 25 years (especially about rape), but rights have improved. Just my personal opinion though ...

  3. +JMJ+

    I have yet to read this novel and am now feeling ashamed about my claim that I've read "pretty much" all the major works of Dystopian fiction.

    Anyway, I can't comment specifically about Atwood's fears, but your question reminds me of my own belief that Dystopian novels have paradoxically become time capsules of an age (or ages) when we had no idea how good we actually had things. I know Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World fairly well, and I think Orwell and Huxley would be appalled to see how far we self-proclaimed enlightened folk of the future have "progressed" since their own time.

    So I wouldn't be surprised at all if I read A Handmaid's Tale and saw our own present world in Atwood's dystopian vision.

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  5. Love finding these old treasures - great site.

  6. Thanks for your comments. Tiny Library, I think you make an important distinction between attitudes towards women and actual rights. Enbrethiliel, I think you'll enjoy this one. It may even suggest a time that is already slightly removed from the present world.

  7. Chilling, moving, vivid, terrifying and sometimes even humorous, The Handmaid's Tale is a profoundly moral story. It is a true masterpiece of power and grace that will someday attain the status of a classic.


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