It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time. Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control. – From The Handmaid’s Tale, page 174-
Margaret Atwood’s futuristic novel – The Handmaid’s Tale – is timeless and relevant. Set in the fictional Republic of Gilead and spanning the Eastern seaboard of the United States after the collapse of the American government, the novel is narrated by Offred…a young Handmaid whose sole purpose in life now is to be the vessel for producing a baby for the upper classes. Atwood creates a terrifying hierarchy with men being “on top” and women being relegated to a variety of freedom-less classes such as Wives (top ranked married women who are unable to conceive), Daughters (the adopted offspring of wives), Marthas (infertile, single, older women whose skills at domesticity keep them from being shipped off to the Colonies), Econowives (low-ranked married women who must “do it all”), Handmaids (fertile women whose sole function is to provide babies for the upper echelon), Aunts (the only women who have any autonomy and are used to train and monitor the Handmaids), and Jezebels (the prostitutes who are hidden away in hotels and used for men’s pleasure). Atwood uses irony effectively with Biblical references and play on words to craft a compelling story.
The novel questions how much freedom we are willing to give up in the guise of safety. Viewed in respect to our current world and political environment of red alerts, government lies to enact war, terrorism, airline security, phone tapping and the whittling away of individual freedoms…The Handmaid’s tale is a thought-provoking expose on what could happen when we willingly give up our freedoms to supposedly ensure our safety. Are we on a slippery slope? Atwood also questions our sources of information (ie: the news media).
Atwood is a genius at creating character. Offred’s voice is pitch perfect, taking the reader step by step through her horrible story. Even Serena Joy, the Commander Fred’s wretched wife, elicits sympathy from the reader. Atwood’s skill with language has never been more spot on then in this novel where she twists words and phrases, showing the reader that all is not as it seems.
I was hooked by the story from page one and read it straight through in two days.
The Handmaid’s Tale is on the ALA’s list of 100 most banned books. It was short listed for the Booker Prize in 1986, won the Governor General’s Award in Canada in 1985, and made the Orange Prize list of 50 Essential Reads. Brilliant, chilling, suspenseful, and masterly written – this novel is a modern classic.