Publication Date: 1985
Publisher: Anchor Books
Genres: Science Fiction, Classics
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…
*Mild spoilers ahead*
This book was extraordinary. I had to pick it up for a university class and it definitely wasn’t a book I would usually read. The genre is science-fiction, but it has dystopian elements to it. To me, I really felt as though it read like a contemporary. This could be why I enjoyed it so much, as contemporary is my favourite genre.
This novel is set in an America that has reverted back to very conservative ways of living. The rules are strict, and people must comply with how things are run, or they could face punishment of death. The protagonist, Offred, is a handmaid, which means that she lives with a couple for the purpose of helping them have a baby.
The setting was very vivid in my mind and incredibly creative. There were several scenes that I could easily picture because of the descriptive writing and there was one scene in particular that I think will haunt me forever. The writing was immersive, and followed a non-linear structure that I think worked very well. In the beginning of the book the readers are confused by what Offred is going through, but flashbacks help inform us how Offred has gotten herself in her situation.
The overall premise means that the book is covered with feminist themes, because the role of women in the book is restricted. While this idea was perhaps more relevant in the year that it was written – during a time in which conservatives Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were in power – the themes still could have cultural relevance today. It is the kind of book that has a world where what is happening to them could happen to us if the wrong people came into power. It doesn’t seem likely, but the exploration of how sexist views could drastically change a society was incredibly moving.
What happens to Offred and several other of the women characters made me desperately want to help them. This is because of the other evil characters who dictate how a woman should behave. For example, in the book woman are not allowed to work. Offred herself doesn’t even tell the readers her real name – Offred means “Of Fred”. Fred is the man she is living with.
My favourite character was Moira: she was a badass. I think Offred was a great narrator, but imagine how much more awesome the book would have been with Moira as the protagonist. Her strength and willpower was admirable. In comparison, Offred was rather passive, yet still occasionally showed courage.
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
There were so many things that I loved about this novel. It did take me around three weeks to read, though that was because it was quite challenging for me to get through. It wasn’t something I generally looked forward to reading each night. However, that is the case with most of the classics that I read.
Here are some things that I disliked:
- There was little action.
- The ending was too open-ended.
- The dialogue sometimes had quotation marks and sometimes didn’t, and there was no explanation for it.
Other than those little things, I throughly enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have rated it 4.5 stars and would recommend it to those who like science-fiction and feminist literature.
- What did you think of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood?