I have just finished re-reading “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, a feminist dystopia novel. When i first read it, it was for my undergraduate dissertation, which explored dystopia and utopia novels.

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

The cover of my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (via Amazon)

It is a fascinating but chilling tale of the extreme measures the government will take to ensure the continuation of the human race in a time of limited resources due to war and pollution, which in turn has caused high levels of infertility within the human race. The tale takes place in what used to be the USA and is now called the Republic of Gilead. The president and the rest of the government were destroyed and then women became forced to be under the will of men in order to control reproduction.

Women are now divided into categories: Wives, Marthas, Ecnowives, Handmaids, Aunts, Unwomen.

A Handmaid is a kind of virginal prostitute, assigned to a childless couple of high status and forced to have sex with the husband in order to conceive and give birth to a child which the couple then takes as their own. The narrator is a Handmaid and is assigned to a couple, known as Serena Joy and the Commander.

It is a very dangerous world to live in, not just for women, but for the men as well, although the women get the worst deal i feel. The whole belief system for justifying the way the country is run comes from some Biblical references:

“Give me children, or else I die. Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear fruit upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.”

The Handmaids are told that they have been saved from corruption and sin, from the times when women were objectified and shameless in their behaviour and attire. Unfortunately, this new regime stops them from being able to do anything without repercussions. The worst thing is that they are no longer allowed to love, and sex is purely for procreational reasons. Marriages are arranged for most women, and they are all forced to wear a uniform to show their status.

This book isn’t always clear to read, as the narrator jumps around through time, with some parts describing the present, and some looking back at memories. Then there are bits where she is describing something she is looking at, and it triggers a memory from the past and suddenly she is describing that, so it isn’t always possible know who or what she is talking about.

However, i do like this book because it is just one of many futures that humanity could face if certain things carry on. It very strongly affects women as a feminist story, and is quite horrifying to imagine such a thing occurring. The problem is that it very well could happen, it is quite realistic!

I give the book 9/10 because it is original, chilling and fascinating to read! It makes you think how would you cope if in the same situation. I really recommend this book to anyone who is into Sci-Fi, Dystopia, Feminism, etc.

  1. Geoff W says:

    When you were reading feminist Utopias and Dystopias did you read Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy? I wrote a graduate paper comparing the two. I would definitely recommend it, especially in response to A Handmaid’s Tale.

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