Mini classic review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now . . . 

I’m sorry there’s so much pain in this story. I’m sorry it’s in fragments, like a body caught in crossfire or pulled apart by force. But there’s nothing I can do to change it. I’ve tried to put some good things in as well.

The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredibly thought-provoking novel, but one that is also genuinely scary as well. It may be set in a dystopian world, but one that ours is uncomfortably close to — now more than ever.

Atwood has stated previously that all of the themes in this novel and the attitudes towards women came from real historical events, and so I think it’s devastating that the novel also displays the same attitudes towards women in our own modern society — be it 1985 when this book was first published, or 2022.

I find it so disgusting that in this novel women are valued only for their ability to reproduce, and this is — somehow — the same conversation and beliefs we are having today! It really goes to show that women’s place in society has had no meaningful change in all of human history, but particularly in the almost 40 years since this book was first published. Our current society has regressed and is basically Gilead in all but name.

Offred is a fascinating character and one that you can’t help but feel for as you explore this world with her. She really shows the horrors of this society and what the world has become. Her narration was emotional and devastating.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a fictional example of what happens when a society, run by the patriarchy, dictates what women should do with their own bodies — and unfortunately no-one listened.

2 thoughts on “Mini classic review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  1. ruth @ with freedom and books says:

    Hi, Laura,

    I know we haven’t spoken before, but I checked out your review bc I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’m always interested in what others have to say about it. I’ve read it twice (once in college, in the 90s, and more recently). I happen to like dystopian novels, and this one is one of my favorites.

    There was one statement you made that I am curious about: why you believe that “women’s place in society has had no meaningful change in all of human history.” When I look at history and my own time (I’m a lot older than you), I see nothing but progress (and sadly even self-destruction). Women have come a long way. Just looking at American history, women could not own property, vote, or run for office. Many did not drive cars, work outside of the home, go to college, or own businesses. Many fields and industries were off limits. Even in my college days, men thought it was off base for me to study architecture. But now, 25 years later, no man would even consider it strange. Today he would likely be working for an architectural firm run by a woman. Consider that more women enter, attend, and graduate college today, and have been for a few years now. What has happened to the males?

    I could go on, but my point is that women are as close to equal as men in many ways, although we will never be totally equal bc we are not made that way and we are different. Nonetheless, our history has been nothing but advancement and achievement. Young women have choices today that my mom and grandmothers did not. And in fact, my daughters have more choices, too: go to college to continue education, start a small business, get married and have children, or not, work part time or full time, live at home or buy property, invest, or even travel alone. She can do any of those things, if she is able to. The choices are open to her.

    Our world doesn’t look anything like Gilead and men’s attitudes are more aloof than ever. I don’t think there are any people (esp men) who think women are only good for reproduction. And Christians especially understand the biblical responsibilities of women as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, and individuals made in God’s image; so we can’t even charge Christianity as an oppressor like they are in The Handmaid’s Tale. (Frankly, all of the “religious” characters in HT are hypocrites anyway.)

    Of course, Atwood took the events from history, particularly from Puritan America and the events of the Muslim Middle East and Iran. If you are interested in knowing more about how oppressed women are, you should research Iran’s history or Afghanistan bc that is true oppression of women.

    I think what helps Atwood’s case is portraying women as nothing but reproductive machines, bc it is a very effective way to provoke the reader bc we know it is preposterous. Those attitudes
    are not pervasive today, nor were they when the book was written. And R v. W did not advance women or make them freer or even change attitudes about women. American women (at least) are HERE today (the furthest they have in history!) bc the women before them pursued what they wanted and over time changed attitudes. Believe me, it had nothing to do with abortion.

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    • thebookcorps says:

      This is an incredibly ignorant and racist comment that you’ve, for some reason, decided to leave on my page.

      1. I frankly don’t care how old you are, you don’t know me and you don’t know the type of life I’ve lead. Your age does not give you some kind of expert knowledge that younger women lack. In fact, it has lead you to make several repugnant comments.

      2. Your comment “women are as close to equal as men in many ways, although we will never be totally equal bc we are not made that way and we are different” is disgraceful. You have, in fact, insinuated that men are superior to women after ranting that modern women have never had it better. From what I interpret from this line, you also come across as a TERF. If you decide to respond to my comment, I will not respond as I do not engage with TERFs.

      3. Women may have come a long way, but that progress has been utterly destroyed this year in countries such as the US. Just today Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Trans children and adults are being targeted and prevented from seeking any sort of transition, be that medical or social. Gay people are also being targeted, with fascists with guns showing up at a children’s book reading performed by someone in drag, schools banning the word ‘gay’, movie theatres warning parents about a same-sex kiss in the new Lightyear movie, and a convoy of masked men with guns was captured on their way to a Pride parade. The fact that you continue to believe that any progress is continuing to be made, astounds me.

      4. “Young women have choices today that my mom and grandmothers did not” — no, they have less. Today has proven it. Guns have more rights in the US than women.

      5. “And Christians especially understand the biblical responsibilities of women as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, and individuals made in God’s image; so we can’t even charge Christianity as an oppressor like they are in The Handmaid’s Tale” — but Christians in the US ARE forcing their puritanical and hypocritical beliefs on a religiously and culturally diverse nation. I grew up Catholic and I’m assuming your denomination is Christian. I’m astounded that you believe that Christians truely respect women and do not oppress people. Again, look at what has befallen the US this year alone. You cannot force others to follow your own religious beliefs because some dude from 2000 years ago wrote a book and said so — that is the definition of religious oppression.

      6. “If you are interested in knowing more about how oppressed women are, you should research Iran’s history or Afghanistan bc that is true oppression of women” — this comment disturbs me in so many ways. Why, whenever someone discusses the oppression of women in Western countries, do people find a way to divert the conversation to the peoples of the Middle East and the treatment of women in a country so different from your own? A rule of thumb that this young woman wants to pass onto an older woman: if you are not part of a specific culture or race, don’t insert yourself into the complex, often political and deeply entrenched beliefs that another country has. I’m assuming you are not Iranian and Afghani, so maybe stick to trying to help the oppressed women and people in your own country first, because, holy hell, they need it. Furthermore, plenty of Iranian and Afghani women are fighting for their own rights and don’t need a random white woman from (I’m guessing the US) to use them as fodder in her attempt to prove that Western women are not oppressed or face any sort of danger.

      7. “I think what helps Atwood’s case is portraying women as nothing but reproductive machines, bc it is a very effective way to provoke the reader bc we know it is preposterous. Those attitudes
      are not pervasive today, nor were they when the book was written” — I just … what? These attitudes are 100% pervasive today. You would have to be deliberately blocking out any sort of news to truly believe this.

      My review of The Handmaid’s Tale is like 5 short paragraphs long and I only wrote it for a book club I’m part of. Maybe I didn’t express myself clearly enough, because I wasn’t intending to write some sort of thorough essay on my thoughts of women’s oppression, but your comment was too upsetting to ignore.

      Oh, and I just looked at your blog and read your post about me. For future reference, I didn’t delete your comment. You have never commented on my blog before and so comments need to be approved before they’re allowed on my page. As someone who also has a blog, you should know that.

      From your own post: “Why not dialogue about what you believe; make your case, and win me over. Why not make use of your platform and promote your ideas further with someone who is engaging you?” Sure ok, lets hope you take my comments in the same spirit.

      From your own post: “You are not even forced to defend your own ideas. But how can you not defend your views or worldview, especially if you demand others think, speak, tolerate, accept, and obey your opinion???” I’m confused as to where I have forced someone to tolerate and “obey” my opinion in my book review. This is so weird.

      From your comment on your post: “WHY have any generation today resorted to screaming so they can’t hear you instead of wanting you to hear their argument? Know what I mean??? They don’t even want to talk about what they believe, let alone be quiet long enough to hear someone else’s side. It’s crazy.” You are clearly so upset I didn’t immediately respond to your comment (not like I have a full-time job or a life or anything), that you’ve created a false reality where someone expressing their half thoughts on an old book means that my generation is afraid of conflict, and is screaming that no one wants to hear alternative arguments (literally, where?). You’ve, somehow, turned a simple book review into a generational debate. You’ve written an entire blog post about me, when you have no idea who I am, to discuss … the protection of democracy? It would be funny if it weren’t so bizarre. Please, calm down and keep me out of your blog.

      And finally, no one owes you any kind of ‘debate’ or discussion. If you post a deeply upsetting, troubling and racist comment on someone else’s blog, that person has no obligation to respond to you. I’m truly baffled why you think anyone owes you their time of day.

      Hopefully, this is enough of a discussion for you. After reading your blog post about me (which again, is based on 5 paragraphs in which I half review a random book), I’m sure you’ll take it in the spirit it was meant.

      Like

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