The Handmaid's Tale Turtleback – Sep 1989
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Throughout her career, Margaret Atwood has played with different literary genres in her novels--historical fiction (Alias Grace), pulp fiction (The Blind Assassin), the comedy of manners (The Robber Bride)--but no foray into genre fiction has been as successful as her turn to speculative fiction in The Handmaid's Tale. Published in 1985, it echoes Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, but a vibrant feminism drives Atwood's portrait of a futuristic dystopia. In the Republic of Gilead, we see a world devastated by toxic chemicals and nuclear fallout and dominated by a repressive Christian fundamentalism. The birthrate has plunged, and most women can no longer bear children. Offred is one of Gilead's Handmaids, who as official breeders are among the chosen few who can still become pregnant.
The Handmaid's Tale is an imaginatively audacious novel that is at once a page-turning psychological thriller, a moving love story, and a chilling warning about what might be waiting for us around the corner. What ultimately makes it stand out is Atwood's ability to balance a passionate political statement with finely wrought literary fiction. The Handmaid's Tale is a remarkable work by one of Canada's most inventive writers. --Jeffrey Canton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
In a startling departure from her previous novels ( Lady Oracle , Surfacing ), respected Canadian poet and novelist Atwood presents here a fable of the near future. In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be. This powerful, memorable novel is highly recommended for most libraries. BOMC featured alternate. Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
While many dystopian novels focus on a far distant future when the past is forgotten, Atwood's Tale focuses on the transition period, the primal generation. Offred, a "handmaid" in the Republic of Gilead (the former U. S.), remembers what it was like to hold a job, to earn money, to own property, even to read -- all of which have been denied in this "modern" society.
While the former society was imperfect, women were free, valued for the contributions they could make to society. Here they are not "free" -- they can't travel, gain eduction, etc -- but they are technically "free" from many of the former problems -- rape, sexual objectification, etc -- and valued now only for their ovaries.
Offred is a sympathetic heroine. The story is told in a style reminiscent of stream of consciousness, she is merely thinking her story to herself. The narrative is compelling and the themes are significant. Atwood's style is poetic without being sentimental. All in all, it is a worthy work.
This scenario is truly terrifying, but it can also make one feel lucky for what we have in today's society. I feel lucky to live in a society where women are valued for more than just bearing children; where women are women, whether they have had babies or not; where women have their own names; and where women are allowed to work, have their own property, read, and get educated.
It is scary to think that a scenario like this could happen in our country. Hopefully, it never will-- not if we don't let it.
Most recent customer reviews
The Handmaid’s Tale is a book that will change you. You won’t be the same person once you’ve finished the book. After rereading it, you’ll be changed even more. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Nadine
With this book Margaret Atwood achieves something very difficult: she writes a work of social science fiction. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Peter Taylor-Gooby
This was a Bookclub selection and you either like Margaret Atwood or you don't and I am one of the latter.iPublished 7 months ago by linda jackson
I'm not a dystopian reader normally but I loved this classic Margaret Atwood book. Recommended to everyonePublished 7 months ago by Christine
this book always makes me aware of how things could be ...l love itPublished 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
I found the story very easy to " fall into". The idea of an extreme religious sect, ( or a group using religion as their excuse), getting power in North America doesn't... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Chris Witham