The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel, set in futuristic United States and tells the story of Offred, a handmaid to a Commander in the district of Gilead. This is in a time where women’s freedom was controlled and where fertility rates were low. Women, who previously reproduced healthy children, were commissioned to serve as handmaids to Commanders and their wives who couldn’t have children. Their sole purpose is to reproduce, but they weren’t allowed to read or write. Even in the shops, there were picture signs, not words. Knowledge is power, right?
Offred tells her story, past and present, but does so in a slow pace. Only later in the story she reveals that she is a handmaid. As someone who believes in women’s rights, it was a scary to read about how the women were controlled, with the purpose (or excuse) of keeping them safe. Offred, in her past life, had a husband and a daughter, had her own job and her own money. She believed in love. Then one day it was just taken away from her – she got fired from her job, lost all her possession, because women were not allowed to have their own money and property. She and her husband planned to escape, but that didn’t get them very far.
This novel I believe might be my first dystopian novel I’ve read, and arguably a really good read. This novel brings up various topics such as women’s rights as I’ve mentioned above, but also education and human rights as a whole. Here we have a society that believes a woman’s value is measured by her fertility and that alone. She lives in a male dominated society, she isn’t allowed to have individuality and she must hide her face and wear shapeless clothes. To be honest, there are countries were this happens, not at the same level of severity, but indeed so. If the handmaid does not produce children or children with disabilities, does not obey the law then she will be sent away to the colonies to work cleaning up waste etc… which is an infringement on human rights, not just women’s rights. She isn’t allowed to be educated too, books were burned, but later in the novel she develops a friendship with her Commander, who allows her to read books and magazines. Imagine my delight at that!
I loved the ending of the book, but only partially. For the purpose of not giving too much away I’m not going to say how it ended, but those who are familiar with the book would know why. I want to know what happened to Offred, and what her real name is, which never gets mentioned in the book. The ending is open for interpretation and so my imagination runs wild. This was such a good, yet scary read and also a definite reread. I really do recommended it to those who love classics, and especially if you love dystopian fiction. I will be exploring more of Atwood!
Have you read it? Share your thoughts in the comments section.