Hey book lovers,
Kicking off my new reading challenge for the year is a review of Margaret Atwood’s most prolific and well-known novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. A frighteningly dark tale about unmitigated power of men in the future, one wonders if this is just the imaginative fears of a feminist or if there is truth in the fiction.
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now..
I recently read a review of this novel which was very profound, encompassing the core political themes of the plot. My review will be nothing like that. I live for thought provoking novels but I’m also neurotic, which means that as much as I would love to discuss the intricacies of The Handmaid’s Tale, it’ll take me weeks to really explore every concept and theme. I don’t have weeks. I have one day. So, bear with me.
Following similar concepts from George Orwell’s 1984 and Adulfus Huxley’s Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopia set in a new world with a ‘new America’ called The Republic of Gilead. A Christian fundamentalist regime where women are a means to an end–property and procreation.
Westerner bubble: In an instant, women living in the Western world may think this is an outdated plot. I mean, we live in an advanced age of enlightenment. Women are out there being empowered in every aspect of society. Why dwell on some past-life concept? We no longer have a need for the extreme feminist paranoia.
To which I say, shut up and awake from your Westerner bubble.
The Handmaid’s Tale‘s most obvious strategy is juxtaposing the so-called enlightened period that we are living in to old world ideas of how men view women. Think about it: the story is set in a world much like ours today, if not in a couple of decades. Atwood imagines a world where computers are intrinsic to the functioning of society; women were once equal or at least almost the same level of men. Sound familiar, modern world?
Until it all starts to crumble. A war torn country, diminished fertility and in an instant, gender lines are drawn.
I know. You don’t see it immediately. We, in our cushy homes with our fancy technological gadgets and career goals and first world problems but somewhere else in the world, a woman is being denied her very right to live her life. In the 21st century, little girls are forced to marry old men and are not allowed schooling. They grow up and are told that their husbands are their only careers.
We are living in the height of modernism but it is still unthinkable for a woman in Nigeria to tip a male waiter in a restaurant. Working women are led to feel guilty for caring about their careers rather than having children and are then told they are lesbians because they don’t want to give it all up for a man.
What we learn from the novel: The Handmaid’s Tale forces us to realize that no matter how advanced and technologically evolved we have become as a society, our human element is still a raw work in progress. Repulsive as it is in the novel that a group of male leaders came together to dictate what a woman can and cannot do, we see it everywhere on the news in real life. The de-funding of Planned Parenthood and the decision to legalize/criminalize abortion by males in the American government is the most recent example of men trying to decide how a woman should treat her body. Seeing the parallels?
Want more perspective? Read the novel and reassess your thinking, Westerners. This novel is more relevant to today’s society than you think.