Why The Handmaid’s Tale Is My Favorite Book

A dystopian nightmare.

A dystopian nightmare.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a book that I can read over and over again and never get bored. That is a rare thing. In Fact I love it so much that I have bought it at least five different times through the years when I have moved and have had to leave a copy of it behind.

This book is firmly set in a dystopian future in which a right winged Christian extremist group, the Sons Of Jacob, have taken over the United States and renamed it the Republic Of Gilead. They get rid of almost the entire US government by terror inflected bombings and blame Islamic extremists for the act. They then take away the rights of women, one by one, until they are completely subjugated and made to service men in one way or another. All of what I just described doesn’t seem too far fetched, does it? In fact it’s downright frightening because of the fact that there are lunatic Christian groups who preach about these kind of things.

The main character is the novel is named Offred. The majority of the novel is told from her point of view, and the name that she is given by her rulers literally means that she belongs to a man named Fred. Who is Fred? He is the high ranking official that she is forced to have sex with so that he and his wife can have a child. Offred is one of many fertile women who is forced to become a handmaiden to a couple who is unable to have children on their own. Women are nothing more than vessels for babies. They can’t have careers or their own lives, they now belong to men. There are also other classes of women, including the aptly named Marthas, who are forced to be servants in the more wealthy households. If you are deemed unworthy of any of this, or refuse to be brainwashed or participate, you are sent to ‘the colonies’, which is an area of nuclear radiation and death.

So, if you are a woman in this depiction of the future you either have to be a slave or chose death. Being a man, is of course, much more easy. If you are high ranking enough you even get to go to a sanctioned sex club and screw women who are called Jezebels. Jezebels are, for the most part, highly educated and refused to participate as handmaidens. Since they were attractive they were sterilized and put into sex work, rather than being sent immediately to their deaths. Then again it’s still a death sentence since they have a limited shelf life. Just like now these Christian leaders are in fact total hypocrites and are not living what they are preaching. Women have to follow their laws but men can break them since that in itself is sanctioned by the government.

Handmaidens pretty much do nothing but sit around all day. They are not allowed to read or have any kind of hobby. These kind of things would simply make them tense and unable to become pregnant. Instead Offred just sits at her bedroom window looking out into the world pondering her past life and what is ultimately going to happen to her. Reading her thoughts can be very tough at times and very emotional. When she is first given the room she slowly explores it to find out if the woman placed in the house before her left any clues as to who she was. Scratched into the paint in the closet she finds the phrase ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’, meaning ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’ in Latin. Offred learns later on that the woman hung herself in that very room. That particular phrase affected me so much while reading it that I have the quote tattooed down my left arm.

Margaret Atwood has perfectly projected the fears of women with this novel. As a woman I’m afraid of religious zealots taking over my home government and telling me what I can and can’t do with my body. You see this sort of thing happening in the United States all of the time; Christians trying to push their religious views on others. They pass laws that restrict a woman’s right to have an abortion, and try to dictate who can and can’t be married. What it all boils down to is that these groups want to be able to control women so that they can’t have a voice of their own or even make their own choices. We are seen as children who must be told what to do so that we don’t do things the ‘wrong’ way. The Handmaid’s Tale is an important story of what could possibly happen in the future if people just sit back and do nothing. All of this is why this is my favorite book and why it speaks to me so deeply.

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2 Comments

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale is an excellent book. It is incredibly eerie and chilling. I read it for the first time this year and was amazed. The historical notes at the end of the novel especially amazed me. In fact my own blog (Feminism Through Cinema and Literature), is going to publish a post focusing on the feminist themes of Atwood’s novel. Be sure to check it out athttp://ftcal.wordpress.com/. Great post!

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    • I think it’s a book that all women should read. It has eerie echoes of exactly whats going on in the United States, in terms of how the religious right is attempting to take away the rights of women. Thank you for the compliment! šŸ™‚

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