I read this novel many years ago, and after reading it once again, I found it to be even more relevant in today’s political climate.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a horrifying dystopian account of what life would be under repressive, rightwing fundamentalists who have taken over the government. Atwood’s writing is sparse, but elegant. In this world, women are disenfranchised, indoctrinated and controlled by watchers. The fictional Gilead, the new republic, endeavors to supplant the population with white only children. Women of childbearing age are farmed out as breeders to the Republic’s Elite Commanders who, under direct supervision, have sexual intercourse with the women after a Bible reading ceremony.
The narrator, Offred, meaning she is of Fred, who is her commander, remembers her life from before in various flashbacks throughout the novel. She had been the mother of a daughter and married to a man she loved. They tried to escape, but were captured and separated. Offred never learns what happened to them. Many Handmaids commit suicide, and Offred considers it.
Subversives, academics and non-whites are summarily tortured and garroted on walls that had once been academic institutions. Women must be subservient to their husbands in all matters and beatings by men are allowed. Books and magazines are burned. Women are not allowed to read. The written word is replaced by pictures as to not tempt women to read or learn how to read.
The ending is ambiguous, though there is the possibility that Offred escaped via a network of Quakers.
A couple of centuries forward during a consortium, a professor of history plays 30 tapes by one woman who describes what she endured during those terrible times. It is assumed to be Offred.
This novel is both fascinating and horrifying. Fear and revulsion of others is a slippery slope and one that leads to Authoritarianism, reminiscent of the Nazi’s. Freedom for all must be carefully guarded. I highly recommend this novel.