Margaret Atwood, a famous Canadian poet, provided us with The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985 and proposed a problem that is still relevant today.
The book follows a character we come to know as Offred in a dystopian society where women are held with importance, because the birth rates are so low.
Offred has been made a handmaid. A handmaid is under the rule of the higher class men and their wives, is given the job of procreation, and is forced under strict rules and regulations. The handmaids are forced to wear red dresses covering all of their body, and headdresses preventing their peripheral vision.
These outfits create a sense of division within the society. The dresses mark them as property and walking wombs. The handmaids will typically shop for the household and lay with the head of the household.
Offred is particularly interesting because she remembers the world before the revolution that has lead to the reformation of society. She is struggling to keep the details of her previous life, but is losing some, either through repression or simply forgetting.
Offred holds so many of her emotions and impulses in as she attempts to find a way out of the world she is in. Fear motivates her and chaos ensues as she begins to explore the people around her more and more.
Atwood presents an interesting structure of plot, sending us from the present to the past and back again, over and over. This keeps us constantly informed with the way Offred’s mind has slowly altered as time has carried her further into her new position in life. She is constantly recounting her lover before the reformation, Luke, her time at a camp that was meant to train her to be a handmaid, her best friend, Moira, and her daughter. She is trying to hold onto these memories as she is faced with new and challenging obstacles in her household.
The obstacles force Offred into a precarious place where she is sneaking behind the commander, the head of the house, with the guard, Nick, under Serena Joy’s, the commander’s wife, order. She is also sneaking around with the commander under Serena Joy’s nose. Offred is trying to gather herself and gain a foothold into some way to get free. Offred is also becoming closer to her walking partner, a handmaid named Ofglen, who is involved with an underground resistance.
The issues that the book propose are heavily embellished with controversy over abortion, maternity, rape, and gender superiority. All of these things are present in modern day life and have raised controversy within the general population on the social and political front.
Atwood presents us with incredible characters, who are dynamic and real, incredibly poetic diction, wonderfully chosen dialogue, and a narrative that can touch anyone who is willing to read it.
The novel is a socially and politically awakening piece that forces the reader to pay attention, come back for more, and address the problems involved with empathy and sincerity.