The Handmaid’s Tale is a chilling departure from Margaret Atwood’s previous novels (Surfacing, The Edible Woman, and Lady Oracle) which still contains powerful insights about the female psyche but with a terrifying warning of what might happen in the future.
The protagonist known as Offred -her new name as a Handmaid which was derived from “of” and the name of her own Commander, Fred- is now living in the Republic of Gilead –formerly known as The United States of America- to serve as a Handmaid. With the age of declining birth-rates and sterility is norm, women’s bodies are treated as vessel of reproduction like animals. And Handmaids are considered productive and valued if only their ovaries are viable. Praying every night for the Commander (which a Handmaid is assigned in) to make her pregnant. Those women whose infertile and isn’t capable of reproducing -known as Unwomen- are sent to the colonies to serve as labourers without privileges. The only exceptions are the infertile Wives of the Commanders with which the Handmaid’s are working for, thus after the birth, the child is sent to these Wives which is considered as the morally capable. These changes is an unbearable feminist’s nightmare for women now are strictly controlled, ripped off of their jobs, possessions, isn’t allowed to read and write and now uses picture signs as currency to bought something from the market. The ones who are not comfortable with the new society and who are insanely (or sanely) breaks the law is hanged to The Wall for public viewing.
Through the eyes of the Handmaid Offred, we witness a gripping and chilling experience when a society is radically overturned and controlled. With Atwood’s graceful narratives through her heroine Offred, we witness her struggles as she lived her new life with new restrictions and rules imposed and to live by. At first I wonder why Atwood chose her character to witness the foundations of the Gileadean regime and not in a period of its after effects. And with Offred’s aching and longing voice makes me understand the author’s reasons. For it is to illustrate on how to live in a society which completely ripped-off the things we usually have and recognize, leading to something unimaginable but is possibly coming true, to not feel for things as we are used to and is usually part of our lives (past life for Offred) and to treat them as nothing as the past. This is carefully observe in Atwood’s narrative which continuously changes from past to present, making us feel the regret and longing of the protagonist and the horrors she suffers just from living in a new world order.
This is a powerful piece of fiction that as I read, I thoroughly wonder how the novel will end. And for Atwood’s tested skill, how she does it is somewhat frightening; for sometime in the future, they present (our present times) as if it was eons ago and observe it eccentricities like a guinea pig. And how she concludes it offers us light that whatever Offred’s fate is, we conclude that it was something better.
The novel is published in 1986 and I wouldn’t wonder the mentioning of my own country the Philippines, for Edsa Revolution happened at this time and shares much of its events like people power and unfit officials.
Atwood herself states in one of her interviews that “One of the things I avoided doing was describing anything in the novel that didn’t happen in this world.” And with this makes me realize that it is somewhat possible of ever becoming a reality for anyone can recall any nation who suffers restrictions like events from the novel. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale stand next to Aldous Huxley’s (Brave New World) and George Orwell’s (Nineteen Eighty-Four) speculative fiction masterpiece.
Calling the book a feminist novel is not really fitting for it just doesn’t only speaks of gender issues but of the cruel ways we might possibly do to someone in times of crisis. And unfortunately, it is of the woman’s condition that is at stake.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a beautifully written and at times terrifying story about human condition that I’m sure will attain its classic status as time goes by. I highly recommend this to everyone.
The novel won the prestigious The Governor General’s Award, 1987 – Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Los Angeles Times Best Fiction Award for 1986. The book is also nominated for the 1986 – Booker Prize, 1986 –Nebula Award and the 1987 – Prometheus Award. The novel is also listed in the 1001 List of Books You Must Read Before You Die.
The Handmaid’s Tale is also adapted to screen in 1990.
Opening Sentence: We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
Ending Sentence: Are there any questions?