Rating: 5 stars
I read this book in high school and having just reread it again 10 years later, I find it even more poignant.
Atwood wrote this book in the 1980s in response to political and social trends that were occurring in the country, especially the decline in women’s rights. Yet this book is just as relevant now as it was then, especially given the recent election and the fear of the future.
“The Handmaid’s Tale,” is told through the main character, Offred, who is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. In Gilead, women no longer have rights, but duties according to their classification. The wives who are married to the Commanders and other high top officials; the marthas who are primarily the housekeepers, and the handmaid whose main function is to produce a child for the Commander and his wife. Offred is the first wave of the new social order and remembers how life used to be.
When I first started reading this book, I kept thinking the book was placed in the 1800s but then there would be flashbacks to “life as it was,” with smoking and drinking, porn shops and clubs, all of which have been banned now. The book does have a puritanical feel to it, bringing in Bible references to a women’s role as being a bearer of children and what not. It almost feels like progress made in the 2oth century has been eliminated.
In research done on Atwood and her writing of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she is quoted as saying that to seize power in the U.S, like they do in the book, just get rid of liberal democracy and the create a dictatorship.” That is what many think is happening right now with the election of Donald Trump as President. Many are in fear that many of our liberties going to be scaled back. As Republicans look to repeal the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, some critics say that this would have a negative impact to women since there is a provision in the law that birth control is covered by insurance companies. Just this morning on CNN, Fareed Zakaria, the host of GPS, said that he thought that there was rise in a illiberal democracy, where democratic liberties are being taken away and how the US is headed in that direction.
While I don’t think the US would go as far as Gilead did in the “Handmaid’s Tale,” the similarities are quite unnerving. While Atwood was warning us of a time 20 years ago, the warning still stands.
There is a sentence in the book that really stood out to me.
“We lived as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”
Offred is talking about the time when things began to change and how it all seemed so sudden but in retrospect it wasn’t. There were news stories of things happening but looking at them individually, it didn’t seem that big of a deal. Looking at them collectively, she realizes that the changes were happening right before their very eyes. They just chose to ignore it.
Atwood is warning about the decline in the feminist movement and potentially undoing all the progress is made but looking at the political, social, religious and even economic climate of today, that one line sums up everything.
The fact that this book can transcend time is the reason I gave it five stars and I think every person should read this book.