The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Revisited)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

                This is my second reading of The Handmaid's Tale and it's been almost four years since the first time around. I felt a need to return to this book and this story. Maybe because of the current politics. Maybe because I needed to realize what real-life horror could be. Maybe the furor around the TV adaptation influenced me. I'm not sure exactly why but I needed to reread this book. And so I did. This story was just as powerful and unsettling the second time around.
                This is the story of Offred. But it isn't just her story. It's the story of all the women in the Republic of Gilead who have no rights, no jobs, no money and a life completely determined by the men around them. Offred is a Handmaid. She has been sent to the Commander with only one purpose: to bear a child. In the time before she was married, had a child, had a job and her own bank account. But all of these things have been taken from her. All of the women must now serve a purpose to men and to society. There are the Wives who wear Blue, The Marthas who wear green and do service work around the house and the Aunts who train the Handmaids. Women are not allowed to read. The stores that women frequent have pictures so as not to tempt the women to read. This is the world Offred knows now. She remembers the time before but is helpless to make any change or to escape. Offred, the Commander, his wife and the Republic of Gilead with its wall where bodies hang and secret rebel organization exist is the shadows.
Spoilers are coming.
                This is the kind of story that can send chills up and down your spine. Because it is both a world you fear and a world that you can easily envision. Offred could be anyone. Her day to day life before could be reminiscent of anyone's life. And yet here she is now with nothing. Her body used as a ritual to further the means of those who hold her captive. This society is representative of male dominance and women subservience in every since of the world. It has a very biblical undertone that is used as means of control. There is a sense of defiance but the hope in it is fleeting. There is no proof of success, only its undercurrent. And here we have a story of a world that has passed and what has come after. A world where your identity is stripped and you can't even speak your real name.
                If you ever want to know what I am afraid of, read this book. This type of story is exactly what terrifies me. Women unable to control their own destiny. I imagine that this kind of world could indeed happen and in many ways it would feel like Atwood was simply seeing into the future. I credit her world building. She was able to define a world all too black and white, defined by its restrictions. By making the readers well aware of the few things women were allowed to do she made it all to clear all of things women were not allowed. Offred was a character whose mind drifted between then and now, as if trying to hold on to the world she couldn't leave behind. Images of her daughter haunted her while fear for husband permeated her thoughts. Nothing was settled in her mind and the drifting back in forth, the stark realization of the now, was terrfying.
               Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale leaves you with a feeling of discontent. We are unsure of Offred's fate, unsure of what happened in the Republic of Gilead, left to ponder its very existence. I love Atwood's writing in this. It is both descriptive and disconcerting. I kept hoping for a moment of relief and was left wanting. I see those around me who would be complicit to these changes, who would let the world fall around them if it wouldn't affect them directly. And I see those around me who would fight and rage against this horrifying society. This identifying and categorizing of people around me makes it feel real. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.


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