I am a strong believer in reading the book before watching the movie or TV show, and the same applied to “The Handmaid’s Tale”. You might have heard of the successful, albeit disturbing, show on Amazon Prime by the same name, but here are my two cents on why the book deserves just as much popularity.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Review)
Margaret Atwood calls her groundbreaking novel “speculative fiction”, meaning it speculates about possible futures. The novel is set in an alternative future where a Christian fundamentalist regime has overthrown what used to be The United States of America and established the Republic of Gilead in its place. The Republic of Gilead has forced a return to “traditional values”, but these values are mainly used to control women. Women in Gilead are not allowed to read, own material wealth, or enjoy any freedom. Gilead has color-coded women into various groups, so they are recognizable, and their value is always identified in relation to their ‘role’ in society. The Commanders’ wives wear blue, the Marthas or the housekeeping class of women wear green, the poor women or ‘econowives’ wear clothes striped with all these colors, and the handmaids wear red.
The handmaids are fertile women ‘given’ to high-ranking commanders by the state of Gilead if they are unable to produce children of their own. Handmaids are even denied their own names, and therefore identities, and are referred to as Of-commander’s first name. The protagonist Offred remarks that Gilead sees handmaids as “a two-legged womb for expanding Gilead’s weaning population”. The blame for the falling fertility rate is placed on family planning advancements associated with the second-wave feminist movement, such as abortion and birth control, allowing women to have more control over their bodies and fertility.
A running theme in the novel is religion. Gilead’s treatment of women is justified by referencing obscure parts of the bible. State-sponsored rape of the handmaids is ‘explained’ by the story of the first ‘handmaid’ Bilhah. Women are forced to be submissive to their husbands because it is said that is what God intended. Through the novel, Offred thinks about various biblical passages and subtly exposes the irony of using religion as a means to exercise control. In the second chapter, she poignantly questions, “Waste not want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want?” The novel encourages its readers to question the extent to which a religious way of life can be taken and who a society supposedly arranged according to the word of the bible truly disadvantages.
One of the most chilling aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale is the way it seems to hint at history repeating itself. Much of the inspiration for world-building is drawn from events in the past, such as America’s incarceration of ‘promiscuous’ women around World War I, biblical passages, and the Salem witch trials. The novel itself is ironically set in Cambridge, where Harvard University used to be. By doing so, Margaret Atwood posits The Handmaid’s Tale as a warning. The novel constantly reminds the reader that the progress made with regard to the civil liberties of women cannot be taken for granted. It challenges our confidence in the idea that we as a society will never revert to the debasing, powerless experience women experienced in the past.
I’m not going to lie to you; this is a disturbing read. But this is also a book that you cannot miss out on. At its core, The Handmaid’s Tale is about resistance and survival, even in a situation where you are stripped of all your agency. And for all of us still trapped in our homes, lamenting the freedom of the bygone ‘Before’, The Handmaid’s Tale may hit closer to home than you realize. You can get the book here! 📖
The Handmaid's Tale
I am a strong believer in reading the book before watching the movie or TV show, and the same applied to "The Handmaid's Tale". You might have heard of the successful, albeit disturbing, show on Amazon Prime by the same name, but here are my two cents on why the book deserves just as much popularity.
Author: Margaret Atwood
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