Review of The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my new favorite books now. Seriously. The novel follows the story of Offred, a Handmaid in the post-American, theocratic society of the Republic of Gilead. Essentially she’s a sex slave, but only sex for the sake of procreation. She and the other Handmaids are passed from household to household and each month their Commander (a gross highly ranked old man) tries to get them pregnant. But if he doesn’t, it’s no problem for him, since it must be the Handmaid’s fault and you can be certain she will be punished. The picture Atwood paints is a terrifying one, but it’s one you can’t look away from. Like watching a car crash or documentaries about natural disasters, it’s thrilling because you know it could happen to you. It’s even more horrifying because Atwood makes great use of flashback, showing what Offred’s life was like before she was Offred and before this theocracy took over. Seeing her mother, her daughter, her best friend and her husband before they were all separated or probably killed just serves to humanize this character even more and show how happy her life was before everything was destroyed. Not to mention how familiar her life looks to American audiences especially. It seems Atwood intended this book to be read as a warning -- any of this could happen to us.