The Handmaid’s Tale is probably Margaret Atwood’s most popular book. It is been labelled as dystopic, speculative, science fiction, and many other things. But at its heart, it is a horrific look at a future dominated by patriarchy and twisted religious beliefs—but the meaning and conversation can go so much deeper than that. I could write an entire thesis on the reasons why the patriarchy set up in Handmaid could only exist through the compliance and support of women, but I won’t. A book review is no place for such thorough analysis. I give you this rudimentary review so that you will possibly be inspired to go out, read this book, and do the deep thinking on your own.
The main character of Handmaid is essentially nameless. She in known only as Offred (“Of-Fred”—Fred being her patron). The book is a recounting of her life and experiences. It is non-chronological, and it told in a more stream-of-thought manner, which makes more sense when you realize that she is dictating her story in an audio format. Her experiences become a futuristic slave-narrative-like story.
Offred is a handmaid, which means she has been proven to be fertile by having a child previously. She is put into this breeding caste and given to higher-ranking family units who want to have a baby, but are unable to do so. The blame for the mass infertility affecting the society is placed solely on women. Sex becomes ceremony, and a strange one at that. It would make most any person squirm at the awkwardness and wrongness of it. If after a stint with a family, the handmaid does not produce a child, she is sent to another household. She only has so many chances before she is sent off and deemed “unwoman.”
The narrative switches back and forth from her story and history as a handmaid to life before the fall of government, and even to random points in between. Luckily, the jumps in time and story aren’t confusing and the reader is able to figure out what is happening when with little difficulty.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a book that most everyone should read at least once in their life, as it serves as a poignant warning of what not to let happen.