A Handmaid in Dystopia

atwood1Atwood, M. (1998). The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor Books.

I have a flair for dystopian novels, movies or comics. I suppose they bring my worst nightmares to life in detail, which in a strange way is exciting. Based on the genre’s popularity I suspect the same for a large portion of the population that it appeals to. Offred, the protagonist of this book tells her story as a Handmaid, where she lives an almost enslaved life of servitude in a not so far dystopian future.

In this future, women are primarily valued by their ability to reproduce. They are to be kept in the dark of the world’s current events by reading being banned for them. Whether stationed as a Handmaid, Martha or wife, there is little freedom of thought or movement. For the men in society, there is not much more freedom, unless they are part of one of the highest echelons of society as a Commander. Men are sent in droves to fight wars or lead uneventful and loveless lives as Guardians. People, who think for themselves, find themselves being sent to the Colonies. In the Colonies, a short lifespan awaits until toxic waste leads to a slow painful death. Life is grim in the Republic of Gilead, which was once part of the United States of America.

The part of the book that was most terrifying was the Offred’s description of how the Republic of Gilead was formed to begin with. The radical people behind the movement to take over the United States came to power over a short period of time. Offred describes the events of her money card being turned off one day, simply because she is female. Since she has no cash, her assets are inaccessible. Under the threat of violence, her boss one day enters her office and orders all female employees to vacate the premises within 10 minutes, since women can no longer work. In a situation with no money, job or legal standing, where can she escape to? The book meanders from the present day, and back to the past, to give a first-hand account of Offred’s life. The only part I disliked about the book was the ending. But, since discussing the ending would be a spoiler, I will refrain from discussing why.

I recommend this book to be read, not just once, but perhaps several times. As discussed in my book club last week by several members, reading it at different times in one’s life gives a different perspective. As a high school student, the idea alone of being in a world that suddenly is turned upside down would be terrifying. Reading it later in life, perhaps as a parent or married person would be heartbreaking from the perspective of loosing those who you love. I intend to pick up once again in 10 years or so, to read it from a different view. This is a must read, for everyone.

Colette Molteni

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