The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Review by Miss Cooter

I had always looked at the Handmaid’s tale as a book you read in school – Boring, “grown up”, irrelevant.

I’d never even considered what the book was about.

Even with the release of the series on TV, I hadn’t actually thought about reading the book. I was putting off the telly series until I was in the right mood.

But, having read all the other books on my “to read” list, I searched the ILC’s database for Dystopian Novels, something I was in the mood for.

The Handmaid’s Tale popped up, and for the first time I read the blurb on the back of the book.

What a fascinating concept.

I read the first page.

I couldn’t put it down.

This book is the story of a woman whose entire world has been turned upside down. All of her freedoms have been removed. She has lived through a series of events that are not far removed from what the Jews must have felt on being forced into concentration camps.

She is confined, redefined; her role as a woman, how she sees herself, has been fundamentally changed by the ruling government. She is no longer allowed to even read text. Woman are seen as subservient, but also dangerous. The men in charge are well aware of how precarious the balance of their power is, and how these women could tip things in their favour. If only they were able.

The women are so controlled by law and force, even by other women at times, that they cannot rebel. They cannot see a real way out. The only way these woman can assert themselves is though snatched moments of conversation, and hurried whispers under the noses of their masters. Brief moments of shared knowledge.

Even then, the role given to these women still controls their life. They are ruled by it: the need to conceive a child.

In a world of falling birth rates, this is now their purpose.

Their only purpose.

This story, told with beautiful, near-poetic prose, tells the tale of one woman’s existence in this world.

She both longs for and loathes the idea of falling pregnant. She hates the world that makes her this way, and she knows she has been indoctrinated, and yet, even with that knowledge, she doesn’t entirely want to escape it. To fall pregnant would mean safety. It would prove her worth.

Along the way, we also see glimpses of the world “before”. It’s the world we know; freedom, women’s choice, sexual decisions, abortions, divorce, laughter. Conversation.

There are many messages that could be taken from this story. One is that a woman’s power is always limited in the view of men by her ability create life, to give birth – that this makes her weak. Another is that environmental changes could to lead to far reaching social changes we may never be able to foresee. Another message is that power is always corrupt, and taking this further, that corruption always leads to downfall.

However, the message I believe I took from this story is one of strength. Strength of will to continue, to hold out against the next challenge that must be overcome, to maintain – This is the most powerful message. No matter how bad, no matter how awful the world is, there are always moments of joy. There is always a future. Uncertainty can be hope. Not all people are bad. Friendships can mean more than life and death. To know all of this is strength. And, that is what this tale tells us. Strength is hope and hope is strength, and this will carry you through the dark times.

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