What is The Handmaid’s Tale?


“Faith is only a word, embroidered”

The last time I read a dystopian novel was when Brave New World was required in our AP English class. I loved it. Therefore, after hearing praise of the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale I decided why not try another dystopian story? This was certainly different, less “fast-paced” action, but I liked it.

For one it does take a level of patience to read in entirety Offred’s narrations. If you read memoirs they are often succinct in their sentence structure. Fiction books vary. At times reading the Handmaid’s Tale, I had to muster up the patience to sit tight and absorb Offred’s surroundings and emotions. I reveived much more than the satisfaction of simply finishing a novel in the end, I re-gained my sense of appreciating every piece of a literature puzzle.

If you haven’t read in a long time this is usually the biggest hurdle to tackle.

What is the Handmaid’s tale about, you ask?

Well, if you’re a left-wing progressive (woman, especially) think of it this way how you feel about Trump right now amplified. The Republic of Gilead’s totalitarian government has erased your rights of autonomy… to own property, to love, and to basically live freely. We’re talking more than just Planned Parenthood here. If you’re Offred, our protagonist, you have lost not only the love of your life Luke but also your child. They might be hidden away or dead, you won’t ever know. (We eventually learn her child is alive).

Reproduction has declined, and therefore you are assigned to an elite commander to “reproduce”. This is your duty as a handmaid. However, you cannot leave the building unsupervised. Wherever you are besides your blank, minimalist room, you are watched. Be careful not to talk too much either, even on an errand to the grocery store.

It is the little things like saving left-over butter to moisturize your face that make you feel like the woman you really are. Think about it, you aren’t even allowed to wear face lotion. You can’t even own face lotion.

In a world, where escape is deadly and your world is decided for you what do you do?

You develop secret alliances…until they die and you yourself are taken hostage (at the end of the novel).

You “hook up” with the watch dog…hoping if you become pregnant…you’re life may be saved. After all if you haven’t had a child from the commander by a certain age you are in big trouble.

You seduce the Commander with Scrabble Board games and slowly get access to remnants of the previous world. Fashion Magazines. A night out in the club. Very scandalous yet it gives you more reason to live.

You remember the little memories you hold near to you. How you met Luke. The little actions of your daughter. How she used to follow you around. You remember your rebellious, youthful, and quirky mother. Where is she now? You also remember your best friend Moira, who luckily enough you do meet once on a night getaway.

Do you ever see any of them again? We never know. During the end of the novel Nick urges Offred to leave with the Mayday as an “escape”. We never learn if that van that pulled up into the house was actually the Mayday, but we do eventually learn that Offred had to make it alive in order to tell her story on cassette tapes.

The remaining pages after that scene are set in the future the year 2195 where we as readers are audience members seated in an academic lecture by Professor Piex who discusses the cassette tapes she has left behind.

The end of the novel brings about conflicting feelings. Prior to this academic lecture in 2195 you are emotionally attached to Offred, and suddenly she is talked about as an academic subject. Professor Piex’s tone is devoid of any sentiment towards Offred’s sacrifices and overall character. You could say it dehumanizes her. 

We never learn Offred’s fate, but this novel is one which will soak you in and move you. You learn how when you have nothing, you still have something.

There are orthodox themes of religion laced into this novel as well. You must read to piece the full story together.



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