3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Handmaidenly Handful of Fear
Picture a world, not far in the future; consisting of low birth rates, oppressed females, religions, constant wars, and a never-ending battle for freedom of thought. That is the type of setting presented in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. This book tells the tale of Offred, who happens to be one of the few handmaids in the world. A Handmaid is a woman who is used...
Published on Oct. 4 2001 by Jon Myer
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somber and suffocating
Atwood has a way with words. Her sentences are often poetic, but can be stark and abrupt, chopped off. At times this is intriguing but at other times irritating. This is a speculative novel about a newly established territory, Gilead, in north-eastern America, ruled by a secretive despotic regime. The Handmaid is Offred (her imposed Gileaden name), who is confined to an...
Published on Feb. 3 2012 by S Svendsen
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Handmaidenly Handful of Fear,
Picture a world, not far in the future; consisting of low birth rates, oppressed females, religions, constant wars, and a never-ending battle for freedom of thought. That is the type of setting presented in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. This book tells the tale of Offred, who happens to be one of the few handmaids in the world. A Handmaid is a woman who is used as a tool for the leaders of the world in order to procreate. Sound scary? You have no idea. Atwood describes a world full of fear and oppression that is easily portrayed through the narrative of Offred. With her harrowing words, Offred describes the people, places, and her thoughts quite clearly, leaving readers only in the wake of her emotions. She speaks to the readers personally about her contact with an underground organization, her past, the events leading up to the present, her secret affair, and much much more. All I can say is that this book holds you in a grip of anticipation and mystery as to how the set of events will unfold. The only thing you can do while reading this book, is to hold on for a wild ride of excitement and suspense. This book is a change from Atwood's common writing style, but she seems to handle it like a pro. You will definitely feel a sense of satisfaction when you put this book down. I highly recommend it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ending unexpected,
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This review is from: The Handmaid's Tale (Kindle Edition)
When approaching the ending, I had a strong feeling that she was going to die. This book was filled with flashbacks, gloomy atmospheres, and a tone suggesting death. It was quite an abrupt ending, something not expected for me.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somber and suffocating,
This review is from: The Handmaid's Tale (Hardcover)
Atwood has a way with words. Her sentences are often poetic, but can be stark and abrupt, chopped off. At times this is intriguing but at other times irritating. This is a speculative novel about a newly established territory, Gilead, in north-eastern America, ruled by a secretive despotic regime. The Handmaid is Offred (her imposed Gileaden name), who is confined to an asylum where women are kept to breed a new generation of superior beings fathered by privileged "Commanders." She tells her story biographically. Often she has memory backflashes of her pre-Gilead life, her childhood, her mother, her husband Luke and their daughter. These recollections frequently surface mid-paragraph and even mid-sentence, which, as the mind works, is realistic but can be annoying for the reader who has to pause and sort out her present from her past.
Offred's somber tale describes a bleak situation that can be characterized as suffocating, lacking airiness. Her life is dreary and tedious, filled with obscure anguish. The overall theme is that women are helpless victims to men's schemes rooted in fascistic power structures legitimized by quasi-religious creeds and rituals. Instead of toeing the line, as she fails to conceive, Offred succumbs to her own need for emotional and physical diversion but these experiences only conspire to ensnare her rather than liberate. The last third of the book made it worthwhile for me but I thought the appendaged "Historical Notes" distracted from and complicated what would have been a furtively simple open-ended conclusion.
Religious fundamentalism, patriarchial oppression and political fascism are topics Atwood has woven into The Handmaid's Tale to interplay with a disconsolate feministic undertone.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not the usual suspects,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Handmaid's Tale (Paperback)
If you're one for a novel that is truly off the beaten path, then stop--you've just found it. THE HANDMAID'S TALE is the most riveting and explosive thing I've read since Jackson McCrae's THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD (which completely blew me away). The story alone, even if it had been poorly written, is incredible, but what the author does with this material makes the telling all the more powerful. Wow! This is one great read!
5.0 out of 5 stars What if this really happens?,
The Handmaid's Tale - by Margaret Atwood
THE HANDMAID'S TALE is a frightening look at a not too distant future where sterility is the norm, and fertile woman are treated as cattle, to produce children for the upper class who cannot have any. The narrator Offred, as she is called in her new life, is the Handmaid for a top Commander in the new government. Once a month she is tested by a gynecologist to ensure that she is healthy, and then is taken to the Commander and his wife in the hopes of becoming pregnant.
Offred, along with the other handmaid's, are not allowed to look directly at anyone else. They all wear the same outfits; red long dresses and headgear that cover their bodies. They live together, spend most of their time together, and are taken care of, in the hopes that they will produce children for this barren society. In this society, most women are not allowed to read, and are treated as if they have no minds. The government dictates their role in society. If they disobey, they are punished severely.
Offred's memories often go back to a time when she was happily married to Luke, and with their daughter they were looking forward to a long and happy life together. Things changed when a military group took over the government, and immediately their lives as they knew it were over. Women lost all rights to ownership; bank accounts were frozen, land was taken away; fertile women were taken away from their husbands and families. A handful of older women were made into 'Aunts', and their duties were to instruct and guide the handmaids, reminding them of their role on this earth, which is to procreate.
I have to say that my feelings during this book were of shock. In some sense, what has happened in this book has already happened in other parts of the world and can happen again. The control over women is very much like that of the women in Afghanistan. The control over religious choice brings to mind Nazi Germany, as one of the issues in the Handmaid's Tale is the elimination of anyone that refuses to be as one with the new government - religious persecution is justified and encouraged.
The Handmaid's Tale is a horrifying story of a government fully in control of each person's life and totally out of control. The book was so riveting that it took me only one day to read. I highly recommend this novel.
5.0 out of 5 stars Plain good literature,
I have read "The Handmaid's Tale" a number of times, both in English original and in Croatian translation (a pretty good one). First time I read it, it was because I have found it in a library of a Women's Study Centre in Zagreb, Croatia, so I expected it to be "feminist literature", and was therefore a bit cautious about it, thinking it would be some kind of pamphlet for women's liberation. Of course, I did not know anything about Margaret Atwood back then. First thing this book taught me is that M. Atwood is, above all, a great author, and that "The Handmaid's Tale" is a piece of plain good literature.
The somewhat circular narrative centres around and is being told from the perspective of Offred, a woman living in Republic of Gilead, the dystopian, future theocracy established on the teritory of today's United States of America. Gilead's government is organized by a group of very specific religious fanatics, basing their theology on a couple of chapters from the Old Testament, specifically the story about Sarah, Abraham's wife, who could not bear children, and therefore had given Abraham her handmaid, Hagar, to concieve children with her. Also written in that chapter is God's command to Hagar to completely submit to her mistress, and Abraham's observation that Sarah is to do whatever she pleases with her handmaid.
That is the point from which the treatment of handmaids is derived in the Republic of Gilead. As the increasingly polluted land caused infertility withing majority of women, the fertile ones, especially those who have been either married to divorced men (theocracy of Gilead does not recognize divorce), or single, but not virgins, are taken as "handmaids" to be awarded to high ranking families without children.
Offred has been given to the family of The Commander, one of the highest ranking officials of Gilead, married to Serena Joy, a bitter and slightly desillusioned fanatic. Her narrative focuses on describing daily routines in their household, her experiences and her memories of a past, normal life, with a husband and a daughter.
Apart from political description of Gilead's ideology (which is given masterfully, without unneccessary and boring descriptions, yet with frightening details), the main value of this book lies in Offred's introspection. She is a person completely determined by her biological function as a woman and a child-bearer, completely deprived of any other individual merrits or rights. The way Offred deals with that is beautifully portrayed; sometimes in a flow that resembles free-association ("It's strange now, to think about having a job. Job. It's a funny word. It's a job for a man. Do a jobbie, they'd say to children, when they were being toilet-trained. Or of dogs: he did a job on the carpet...The Book of Job."), sometimes completely ripped-off of any emotions, yet almost physically hurtful with recognition and fear of it possibly coming true.
Granted, Margaret Atwood did write about a woman deprived of her rights in a male-dominated world here, but I don't believe it is a feminist pamphlet. It's a book about human condition, as any other good book; talking about what people are capable of doing, good or bad.
Another note. This, of course, is a speculative fiction, a dystopian one, like Huxley's "Brave New World" or Orwell's "1984". However, I have heard many people say that this one is the least probable one in terms of ever becoming a reality, and therefore fruitless in its message. To these people, I would recommend reading some news from Afghanistan, since Talibans took over.
5.0 out of 5 stars Chilling morality tale,
I could probably make a case for the implausibility of the concept that the book puts forward, but only if I got specific, the situation where people (men or women) are used as merely property and not allowed to have any rights of their own still happens all over the world, whether you like it or not. Ms. Atwood is too smart to try and predict what the future might bring, instead she merely illustrates what happens when you stop regarding people as people, when rights of a few take precedence over the rights of everyone else (for the sake of expediency, alas). In this wacky world, women aren't allowed to read or write due to an ultra-Christian (?) (they quote from the Bible) takeover of the country. Women are divided into Aunts, Marthas, Wives and of course the Handmaiden's, who exist to have children and are given to various Commanders to try and make kids. The novel concerns itself with the story of Offred (Of Fred) and it flips back and forth between her life before the takeover, during her education in those dark days before the present time and her current life as a Handmaiden. Atwood protrays all of this in very poetic language, the words she chooses are sometimes breaktaking, but mostly it's in the images she puts forward and in the general aura that the novel is given. There's a sense of inevitable helplessness, Offred isn't going to change the world by herself and the world isn't going to change in the next day, she realizes that and still wants to fight but isn't sure how. The flashbacks are all rendered quite nicely, and given the right sense of eerie timelessness. The story is never given a date so it could happen anytime but the point illustrated is more important than the details. Some might find her a bit too immersed in the concept, the story tends to float blissfully along but she never gets preachy and even though has the country taken over by an orthodox Christian group, she's not bashing Christainity, just about any religion has buried in it somewhere the same primitive attitudes about women. But for me, it's about more than women, it's about people and what happens when all of a sudden people are property, how it dehumanizes everyone, even as you try to remain as human as you can. A fine story, with the people brought vividly to life, warts and all, and one gives one pause to think. Also, don't skip the historical section in the back, it's a bit wordy and academic and doesn't really explain the cliffhanger ending any better, but gives a better glimpse in everything. All it takes is a little perspective, I guess.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the very few books that you will remember forever!,
This review is from: The Handmaid's Tale (Paperback)
Just perfectly wonderful. If you are a fan of "1984" by George Orwell you will be pleased by this fantastic but so realistic story.
Great, great, great and great again!
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well written, terrible story.,
This is quite possibly the best-written book I've ever hated to read. Ms. Atwood's writing skills are superb and she takes an otherwise dreadfully slow paced and hideous book of man- and woman-bashing and makes it quite a good read. Her writing skills not withstanding, the book is entirely without a single good point. One expects from feminist literature something new and interesting in the examination of the relationship between the sexes. Amy Tan in The Joy Luck Club brought us an interesting look at what feminism means to Asian-American women. It doesn't happen in this book, which is filled with trite stereotypes and two-dimensional figures. One expects strong female role models, characters worthy of emulation. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon gave us both villainous and heroic women who were nevertheless fascinating studies as strong female characters. This novel, sad to say, lacks even a single female worthy of a moment's consideration. More disappointingly, it falls back on trite and overworked male bashing in lieu of actually having anything original to say on the subject of male-female relationships.
Misandry is sadly to be expected from many types of feminist literature, and this novel is a good example of this trend. Ms. Atwood didn't feel it good enough to simply make a few of the male characters in her novel lacking in merit, nor did she feel it good enough to make most of the male characters poor examples of their kind. No, for Ms. Atwood nothing less than the total male population of her novel had to be self-serving, ill defined, and quite flat models for her venomous attacks.
The kindest male character in the book, the one character that Offred truly cares for, is her lost husband Luke. Even this character, under scrutiny, boils down to loathsome traits of which not all men, despite Ms. Atwood's beliefs, are predisposed. Luke, for one thing, began dating Offred while he was still married to his first wife. Moira "disapproved of Luke, back then. Not of Luke but of the fact that he was married." (171). Offred's great love, it appears, left his first wife for a "newer model," or so it would appear, as Luke is described as being older than Offred. Offred later describes him as being rather taken with the idea of her new legally enforced servility. After finding out that his wife has no legal rights to property under the new regime, he seems to take it in stride with aplomb. "He doesn't mind this,..." Offred thinks, "He doesn't mind it at all. Maybe he even likes it. We are not each other's, anymore. Instead, I am his." (182). Yes, this woman's great love, the man she pines for throughout the entire novel, kinda likes the idea of having his wife as property.
Offred's mother is perhaps the guiltiest party in the book to carry on misandristic demagoguery. "What do I need [men] for, I don't want a man around, what use are they except for ten seconds' worth of half babies. A man is just a woman's strategy for making other women." (121) Many of the Aunts are good for a line or two, as well. "Men are sex machines, said Aunt Lydia, and not much more. They only want one thing." (144). Elsewhere she warns her charges that "Modesty is invisibility ... Never forget it. To be seen -- to be seen -- is to be -- her voice trembled -- penetrated." (28) Even Andrea Dworkin never went that far.
Perhaps this stereotyping wouldn't be quite so bad, on it's own. It would definitely make for flat reading and an uninteresting cast of characters, if not for the outright violation, albeit mentally, of the Commander by Offred. In quite the vilest simile I have ever read in my life, Offred daydreams of knifing the Commander, of slipping a shiv between his ribs, "I think about the blood coming out of him, hot as soup, sexual, over my hands." (140) Had this passage been written by a male author, or had this passage been a man thinking this about a woman, the entire feminine press, and much of the left wing press as well, would have immediately risen in outraged indignity over the equation of this act of violence with a sexual act. Andrea Dworkin would have risen into the air and bellowed that this was just the sort of outrageous misogynistic rape that the male culture perpetually pressed on women. Since it wasn't, not a peep. It seems this type of violent sexual assault is only wrong when perpetuated by men against women, the reverse does not seem to hold true.
Far more confusing than the rather trite use of male bashing by the book's author is the author's clear misogynistic attitudes, as well. Male bashing may well be expected in a feminist novel, but the woman bashing seems intuitively counterproductive to the apparent aims of the novel. There seems, in fact, to be an utter lack of strong female characters in this novel, at least ones who aren't simultaneously misogynistic themselves. Serena Joy, the Commander's wife, certainly seems like a fairly strong character, but then she helped to create the world she currently lives in, though she may not bee too happy about the results (46). The Aunt's are certainly strong characters, but they're bad guys, no doubt about it. They are responsible for the indoctrination and enslavement of women to the purposes of the Gileadean regime. Which leaves us with Moira and Offred herself.
First, let me dispatch with Offred. While in the Red center, while still fresh from the outside, she takes readily to the indoctrination of the Aunts and actively participates on tearing down Janine, who has suffered a rape in the past, by blaming her for the rape, by claiming it was her fault. "For a moment ... we despised her." (72) Later, while holding the dirty little secret of her affair with her Commander in mind, she thinks of Serena thusly, "I now had power over her, of a kind, although she didn't know it. And I enjoyed that. Why pretend? I enjoyed it a lot." (162) Let us not forget that this isn't her first affair, either. In regards to Offred's relationship with Luke "[Moira] said I was poaching, on another woman's ground." She later becomes so self-absorbed and wrapped up in her little affair with Nick that she refuses to help the resistance when asked.
I can't, I say to Ofglen. I'm too afraid. Anyway I'd be no good at that, I'd get caught. I scarcely take the trouble to sound regretful, so lazy have I become. We could get you out, she says. We can get people out if we really have to, if they're in danger. Immediate danger. The fact is I no longer want to leave, escape, cross the border to freedom. I want to be here, with Nick, where I can get at him. (271)
This total capitulation, this acceptance of her slave state, this total passivity of hers is what makes her most pitiful, and hateful. Even her fantasies of escape revolve around Luke somehow making a miraculous rescue and reuniting her with her husband and daughter (106). But she takes no active role in attempting any escapes, nor an active role in much of anything that I can see. She is utterly passive and lets the world simply roll over her and then bemoans her fate when it does.
What, then, can we make of Moira? She is at least active. She cares for others actively and vehemently. In the Red center when Janine has a nervous breakdown and becomes unresponsive to real world stimuli, it is Moira who takes command of the situation and manages to snap her out of it before the Aunts return (215-17). She even manages to make an escape from the Red center (130-33) and contact the "Underground Frailroad" (another bit of misplaced misogyny) and almost manages to escape the country before she is caught. I had hope that here, finally, I might find a strong character, and I certainly found the strongest in the book. But in the end, even Moira capitulates and chooses a life as a prostitute in "The Club," better known as Jezebel's to the girls that work there. Her life span will be brief, perhaps "three or four good years before your snatch wears out and they send you to the boneyard." (249)
So, in the end, even Moira gives up. Pity. The novel would have been far more interesting if it had simply been written about Moira and left Offred as a supporting character.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read,
The Handmaid's Tale is fashioned as a dystopia, with an emphasis on feminism. The novel takes place in the late twentieth-century Republic of Gilead after an extremist right-wing group takes contol of what was formerly known as the United States. The main character is Offred, a Handmaid whose sole task in society is based on her biological function to produce children. Due to environmental pollution, a scourge of declining birthrates has befallen the nation. The Gileadean solution, essentially what critic Karen Stein calls "state-sanctioned rape," is a monthly fertilization ritual of the handmaids by the Commander of the Faith appropriated to them by the government. Thus originates Offred's name, literally denoting her status as a possession of Fred.
Under the guise of religious salvation, the Gileadean regime builds a social structure that is rigid, oppressive, and above all, misogynistic. Women in Gilead, "two-legged wombs [...] sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices," are valued solely for their fertility. As complacency replaces the strong wills of the independent woman around Offred, her hope diminishes as well. In her horrifying tale, Margaret Atwood emphasizes the idea that the oppression on women in a totalitarian state is powerful enough to destroy the human will.
By exaggerating some existing misogynistic attitudes and intertwining them with an affecting plot and characters, Atwood finds similar success in her endeavors to shed light upon and caution against a horrific societal treatment of women. Although it's just as depressing as fellow dystopias 1984 and Brave New World, it's more beautifully written. Like the two other novels, however, it's frighteningly plausible and in some places feels all too familiar. I highly recommend this book to men and women. Read it even if you don't think it's "your type." This fascinating story is creative and in depth- it is not to be missed.
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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Hardcover - June 1 1988)
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