Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population. The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment's calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid's Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

Here's what I know about Offred

She was separated from her husband and young daughter to become a handmaid - for the purpose of procreation.

We never learn her real name.

She has a best friend Moira that is gay. Moira thinks Ofred is a coward.

She is the first generation of a new world. One that thinks nothing of women. One that she wants no part of, but is too afraid to stand up to.

She often thinks of her husband and daughter. She thinks of them with sadness. It seems to me that as a mother, she should have more anger. Indignation. Hatred. And fear for her own daughter's future.  Maybe the thought of her daughter's future is so heartbreaking that she can't bear to think of it.

Here's how I feel about The Handmaid's Tale

I read this book for the first time when I was 16. I remember the story and what it was about. But the first time I read it I didn't have children. I couldn't even begin to have the feelings of unjust for her situation and contempt for Offred herself.

Now as I read it again I feel more strongly. I guess it's easy for me to sit in my air conditioned home with all my freedoms and say that I would do things differently. It might have been easy for my 16 year old self to feel like Offred is a coward - I would imagine.  I would think that I would be brave in that situation. I might join a band of rebels and try to be free. But would I be afraid? Too afraid of dying that I would act like Offred? Maybe.

Or maybe she wasn't a coward. Maybe she was brave enough to hold on and live to see the day that she might see her daughter again.  It's hard for me to decide how I feel. I don't have to live the way she does.  Thankfully.

Offred's story ends with uncertainty.  Are the men in the black van really there to help? To take her to her daughter? Will she end up on the wall? She doesn't know, but she resigns herself to going. No fight. I like to think she had help escaping. She got to see her daughter again. But if Nick really was an eye or working for the "man" then she may have been hauled off to her death. The author leaves it for you to decide.  

This fantasy is a grim glimpse at a possible future in the mind of this author. It serves as a reminder of the things we take for granted. I wouldn't wish this future on anyone, but it does make for a fantastic read.