There’s a space in my heart reserved solely for dystopian novels, movies and television series, so it comes as no surprise that I really enjoyed reading this book.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, the United States’ democratic government is usurped by a theocracy. In this oppressive, patiarchal government, there’s a system of Wives, Aunts, Marthas, and Handmaids for the women, and for the men, Commanders and Guardians. Regardless of your position in this new government, you are under the watch of The Eyes.
Women who are unable to assume their roles in this system are considered Unwomen and cast off into The colonies, which is itself a death sentence. Those (both male and female) who commit crimes against the government are hung on The Wall, a reminder to the rest of what will become of those who are part of the resistance.
Atwood writes in first person in this novel. Offred, a Handmaid who has somewhat assimilated into her role, is our protagonist.
The Handmaids are prisoners. After being tortured into submission by the Aunts, they are sent off to the houses of their Commanders. They wear red robes and white headscarves, walk head low and talk in whispers for fear of being heard. They are stripped of their identities, their names, and made to take up patronymics. Like Offred, who was once called June, who once had a life, a husband named Luke, a five-year-old daughter, a mother, a job, even a bestfriend. Now Offred, a Handmaid, a uterus to bear children for the barren wives of as many Commanders as it allows her.
“We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.”, Atwood writes.
Offred recounts moments from her past (pre-Gilead) as she tries to make sense of her present. She is now a Handmaid to Serena Joy in the house of her Commander and under the care of Rita and Cora, both Marthas. But she hasn’t forgotten who she really is, who she was. She muses over it, her past, wonders about the world she was forced to leave behind, her daughter, her husband, her mother, her bestfriend. She toys with the idea of escaping again, but a part of her clings onto the hope that things will be back to normal and she will be reunited with them again.
If you’re looking for something to sink into, this is it. It’s lengthy, and puzzling, a bit scary even. The writing is raw. And when I say raw, what I mean is this book will take you there. I feel like I know every nook and cranny of Offred’s bedroom. I feel like I’ve slept in her wardrobe and traced my index finger over the words nolite te bastardes carborondurum.
I really love the way Margaret Atwood writes. And I say this about every book I read but I really mean it this time when I say I want to emulate her work. I want to be under her tutelage. I want to read more of what she has written!
This is one book I’m going to read again, and again.