This is the third Margaret Atwood book I’ve read, and although I didn’t like it quite as much as Alias Grace, I definitely enjoyed it more than Cat’s Eye. I’m still experimenting with Margaret Atwood books, but by now I think it’s safe to say that I enjoy her writing style and stories enough to keep pursuing her work. This is one of her more well known novels, and I could definitely see why people love it so much. The Handmaid’s Tale is a beautifully eerie dystopian, and it’s certainly one of the best classic dystopian novels I’ve read.
When it comes to dystopia, I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the genre. I loved The Hunger Games when I was in high school, but since then I haven’t enjoyed many YA dystopians. The funny thing is, I can’t even say why. Even though they can be action packed, I often find myself bored while reading them, and a lot of YA dystopians just seem too similar to me. When it comes to this genre I think I am a bigger fan of the classics, although they can be touch and go for me as well. I find that in classic dystopians, there is a wider range of societies and protagonists than in YA. Admittedly there are many classic dystopians that I haven’t gotten around to yet (like 1984, yikes!) But I’m looking forward to picking them up!
The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of Offred, one of the few fertile women left in the world. She only has one purpose, and that is to breed. Needles to say, Women are severely oppressed in this new world. They are not allowed to work, or have hobbies or friends. If you are a woman, you are either one of two things – a wife or a handmaid.
The world that we find in The Handmaid’s Tale is terrifying. An early scene that stood out to me was one that depicted bodies hanging on the wall surrounding their town. Not only is the image of hanging bodies creepy enough, but the types of people that were being hanged really unsettled me. These people were persecuted for being enlightened thinkers. They were doctors, scientists, abortionists etc. This really resonated with me because we see this happening in our society all the time; whether it’s people blowing up abortion clinics, debates on whether evolution should be taught in schools, or medical or scientific advances being frowned upon because they are viewed as us “playing God.” I think Neil Gaiman said it best when he discussed the idea of dystopian fiction shedding light on contemporary issues:
“What speculative fiction is really good at is not the future, but the present – taking an aspect of it that troubles or is dangerous, and extending and extrapolating that aspect into something that allows people of that time to see what they are doing from a different angle and from a different place. It’s cautionary.”
~ Neil Gaiman, Introduction to Simon & Schuster’s 50th Anniversary Edition of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The issues I mentioned above and the sexual, religious, and political themes present in the novel are all issues that are present in our society. Women deserve the rights to their own bodies, and seeing this taken away in such an extreme form was disturbing. It was also unnerving to see how religion influenced politics and the oppressing effect it had on women and society.
To be honest, I wish the world was fleshed out a little more because I was curious as to how our world became this horrible. On the other hand, I realize the ambiguity aligns with Atwood’s message that this could happen to us at any time. We don’t need a big apocalyptic event because we are already on our way there. In this world, people went from living their normal lives to living in this hell very suddenly.
I also thought this novel had a very interesting take on feminism. This novel is known to be a great piece of feminist literature, however some aspects of it didn’t quite materialize in the way that I thought it was going to. Yes, this book is makes a statement on violence against women, but it was really interesting to see that radical feminism was one of the elements that led to this horrific world. It seemed to me that the people who were responsible for the world going to crap were the radical Christians and the radical feminists. This was definitely an angle that I wasn’t expecting. It just goes to show that anything taken to the extreme can only cause mayhem and destruction.
Overall, this was a great book by a wonderful woman who makes me proud to be Canadian! I really enjoyed this book, and the more I think about it, the more my appreciation for it grows. I can definitely see The Handmaid’s Tale being a book I may teach in my high school English class one day!
To learn more about Margaret Atwood, visit her website here –> http://margaretatwood.ca/
Here is an awesome Buzzfeed article called “23 Reasons Why The Handmaid’s Tale is the Best Novel of All Time.” It will certainly put you in the mood to read this book! –> https://www.buzzfeed.com/krystieyandoli/reasons-the-handmaids-tale-is-the-best-novel-of-all-time?utm_term=.rykoPee6g#.ekMWGjjEw
Need a study guide for The Handmaid’s Tale? Visit Sparknotes here –> http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/handmaid/