The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I adore this cover for The Handmaid’s Tale. The body as living vessel, growing, but struggling to grow beyond itself.

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The Handmaid’s Tale is a hard book to review. Partly because it seems like it is harder to review books I enjoy. When I dislike a book I have tons to write about and when I like a book I have tons to talk about with friends, but it can be harder to articulate in a blog post because there is less back and forth. So let me know how you feel about this post in the comments. Let’s talk books.

I’ll just begin with the fact that this is a book I finished reading then immediately started reading again. It’s so well-written. The prose gets in your head and makes your thoughts spin with its almost lyrical style. My copy is underline and annotated because so many lines whispered my name.

This is one of the books that made me want to write again. I loved the way Atwood would focus so intensely on a single phrase that her/ Offred’s thoughts would fill up the page. It reminded me of my notebooks where I start out thinking about a phrase and then I think about all of its implications and the ways it can be twisted or changed. This book was like a spool of thoughts ever connecting one to the other. Maybe that’s not something you like, but I loved it.

The plot is terrifying and believable. It’s difficult because in some ways things were better for women, or at least they started out that way. Offred’s experience is sort of a philosophical imagining of what would happen if we tried to stop the crimes that happen to women and the solution went horribly wrong.

Viewing it philosophically it can be anti-men. By this I mean that men are literally the enemy and the salvation in this book. Obviously, if I read this as a story where all of this has actually happened then the views toward men are understandable and justifiable. However, I have run into people who act as though this is literally happening and men are forcing women into these types of roles. While some men are, and particularly men in some other countries are, this is not happening on a broad scale in the US and most other developed countries. There are absolutely still gender issues, but women are not literal breeding vessels who aren’t allowed to read at least in most developed countries. But again reading this as a story does bring up a certain amount of fear and outrage regarding the past, present, and future of gender equality. I suppose I just want people to remember that this is a story with some major philosophical merit, but it is not a nonfiction story.

I wish I knew Offred’s real name. Some people think it is June, and there is some evidence to support that. However, Atwood has discredited this as she said it was not her intention for her to be named June, but that she would accept it. I want to know her REAL name.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the introspective side of fiction and to anyone who enjoys a good dystopia.

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3 thoughts on “The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  1. One of the things I found interesting was the book was something of a criticism of some aspects of second wave feminism.
    Specifically about the dangers of anti-porn feminists allying themselves with the religious right in an attempt to win the sex wars.

    1. Great point. The main character’s mother is almost a caricature of second-wave feminism as she fights with the MC’s (I really wish we officially knew her name) husband and the MC finds that her husband treats her as if she argues the same ideals as her mother. There’s a line in which the MC tells the reader that her husband is always quick to remind her of the ways their bodies differ, reminding her that “there are some differences… he was fond of saying that, as if I was trying to prove there weren’t.” The husband, in this case, feels like a sort of every man (or every nonfeminist man?) still caught up in the old arguments and unwilling or unable to see what his wife is actually searching for.
      One thing that I found important is that The HandMaid’s Tale does show the ways men are stunted in this regime as well. They seem more powerful but are just as stuck. Obviously they aren’t the heroes of this story and many could have been better, but if you look between the lines you can see the myth of male power.
      I saw this in the use of porn and snuff films as proof that men are evil and can’t be trusted. Yet most of the films are outdated and are actually used to demonstrate, in the eyes of the Aunts, that women are inherently evil as well and that only through subjugation (typically sexual) can they be saved.
      The fact that the anti-porn feminists used porn in this miseducation shows how far they’re willing to bend the rules for their own views.
      I kind of wish there was a Handmaid’s Tale from the point of view of one of the men who disagreed with this whole business, who felt guilt that his gender was doing this yet still felt powerless to stop it.

      This book has so much to unpack and talk about that I almost hated writing a review of it. I could never cover/uncover everything I want to.

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