The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

When I first started this book, I wasn’t quite sure what to think about it. A Handmaid’s tale follows the story of a woman in a future dystopian society that is reminiscent of Puritan society, but with harsher consequences and stranger methods taken to ensure compliance. Throughout the first half of the book, the book was mainly focused on establishing the setting and characters, because it is a very confusing setting at first. What i found both creepy and interesting was the flashbacks that the main character, Offred went through. The flashbacks to her previous life always started out happy, with references to things from the 1980s and 1990s, yet by the end of a flashback, it would always turn sad, and melancholy, as Offred reflected on how she now longer had the simple freedoms she took for granted. Another part that deeply disturbed me was how all the handmaids  were forced to take the name of the commander they were serving, so Offred’s name is literally of Fred and that really shows how woman are treated in this society. Something that I found particularly interesting was the relationships between woman under this misogynist society. Offred and her walking partner, Ofglen, are both too scared to face the consequences of rebellion to even confide in each other, although they do test boundaries by going to visit the wall where traitors are executed and hung. Another interesting relationship is between the Wives and the Handmaids. Instead of being united under the demands of the patriarchy, the Wives oppress the Handmaids and both treat each other with disdain. Handmaids are reduced to their body and are hardly treated as human, instead, they are just vessels in order to produce healthy children. The constant dehumanization has a toll on Offred and the other Handmaids. The tone of the book is very quiet and hesitant, as if Offred is afraid to even think outside the strict regulation, although she does contemplate suicide as a way out many times. Overall, I very much enjoyed the first part of the book for the complex world building, slow pace of the story, and the interesting relationships between all the character.

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One response to “The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  1. Natalie Lloyd

    Second Half of the Book:
    There is a decisive shift in tone in the second half of the book. Compared to the relaxed, if creepy beginning, the second half is much more dark and hopeless. We see Offred struggling to conceive a baby, and such, the threat of death hangs over her. Another complicating factor is her and the Commanders relationship. He begins to ask her to come to his room at night to play Scrabble with him, and starts to give her gifts. Although he appears sympathetic to her struggles, the tone of the relationship is very manipulative and is essentially, just an exchange of one cage for another. There are many situations in which Offred is coerced into saying and doing things which she does not want to do, but feels as though she can’t refuse. I felt very frustrated at the Commander; he was in a position of power and could have used his influence to try to change the way things were, yet, he just provided Offred with magazines and face lotion, and then used those gifts to manipulate her into going with him to a brothel. The situation between Offred and the Commander reminded me of the concept of being a “good master” during slavery. Although making something bearable is a service, a “good master” is an oxymoron, through the cruelty of owning someone. Additionally, I thought the characterization of Offred was very realistic, although it disappointed me. When faced with choices on becoming a more active part of the resistance headed by Ofglen, Offred is much mroe focused on her relationship with Nick, the chauffeur, which is an illegal relationship. Her characterization is totally understandable, as when faced with such a hard life, I think many of us would choose to focus on other things than that hard life, and I cannot begrudge Offred’s choice. In the end, Offred is forced to escape and the narrative ends, aside from an epilogue. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the first half more than the second as I felt the second half was too rushed and dark, although I did think it was realistic. I thought that the messages about dehumanization and the importance of taking action were relevant and powerful, and I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoys speculative fiction.

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