The Handmaid’s Tale By Margaret Atwood
Published in 1985 by McClelland and Stewart
About the Author
Margaret Eleanor Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, teacher and environmental activist. She has published seventeen books of poetry, sixteen novels, ten books of non-fiction, eight collections of short fiction, eight children’s books, and one graphic novel, as well as a number of small press editions in poetry and fiction. As a novelist and poet, Atwood’s works encompass a variety of themes including the power of language, gender and identity, religion and myth, climate change, and “power politics.”
Curiously grotesque and sometimes unbelievable, this piece of fiction is set in the future. A time where declining births due to sterility from pollution and STD’s has resulted in the suspension of rights for women. A class of fertile women meant to be used for reproductive purposes (called Handmaids) is created. Young Offred isn’t your brave heroine. She is our everyday selves. The one that follows rules and is afraid of escape lest she be caught. It reminds us of our failures as women to appreciate our rights to have careers. Young Offred succumbs to lust and despair, sometimes fancying herself in love due to a lack of intimacy, repressing her happy memories and telling herself that there is no other way.
There are times when she fights her complacency and acceptance, when she questions herself on why she cannot defy the system like her spunky best friend or be brave like her mother. She shares our fears of pain, banishment and death. The author has imagined this future in 1985 though many of the issues are primitive. The references of the old testament of using slave girls to bear the children of their husband, denial of education and property rights to women, a league of prostitutes that live on the fringes of society enjoying far more sexual freedoms than the rest draw parallels with times that we have heard about or lived in.
This book also makes you think how society can regress centuries because of a futuristic problem. It ends with a cliffhanger. Does she find freedom? Did they kill her? It leaves you with a feeling that you can continue her story in your head and you can decide her fate, just like everyone else did through the book. You almost wish for her happiness and hope that she finds peace after what she went through.