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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale (original 1985; edition 1986)

by Margaret Atwood

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24,66761944 (4.11)1538
Title:The Handmaid's Tale
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Seal Books, McLelland and Stewart Limited
Collections:Your library
Tags:Modern Canadian Lit., Writing by Women

Work details

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

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    sparemethecensor: The Handmaid's Tale is the classic forerunner to dystopic fiction of sexist futures. When She Woke picks up the mantel with a more modern version of a misogynistic theocracy taking over government. Both show terrifying futures for the state of women in society.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 598 (next | show all)
Such a great book about women's rights and position in society, and still so timely. It's extreme and terrifying, but also plausible. There are bits that seem a little dated, but it's kind of depressing how much of it isn't. It's good to reflect on how quickly the freedoms we currently take for granted can be removed, and how quickly a new 'normal' can be constructed. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Jan 22, 2017 |
Very 1984-esque...loved it. A little more hopeful than 1984. Can't wait for the tv version later this year ( )
  Ahtoosa | Jan 13, 2017 |
Terrifying in its possibility and yet written in such a way as to lull you into a false sense of security (thinking that it's only fiction) and then slam you with some small fact that makes you realise that yes, this could happen. Maybe not in exactly the same way, but certainly the repression of our right to speech, our right to choose our own life, our right to marry/not marry, breed/not breed etc. This is the first book I read by Atwood and I was hooked. This was also the first book I read that opened my eyes to the fact that I was not alone in my observation of the imbalance in my life vs that of my male peers. And that, thankfully, there were some some very articulate and smart women speaking up about it in clever ways. This was my first big author crush and I devoured her back catalogue like a starving person. ( )
1 vote essjay1 | Jan 11, 2017 |
This is the third Margaret Atwood book I've read, and although I didn't like it quite as much as Alias Grace, I definitely enjoyed it more than Cat's Eye. I'm still experimenting with Margaret Atwood books, but by now I think it's safe to say that I enjoy her writing style and stories enough to keep pursuing her work. This is one of her more well known novels, and I could definitely see why people love it so much. The Handmaid's Tale is a beautifully eerie dystopian, and it's certainly one of the best classic dystopian novels I've read.

When it comes to dystopia, I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of the genre. I loved The Hunger Games when I was in high school, but since then I haven't enjoyed many YA dystopians. The funny thing is, I can't even say why. Even though they can be action packed, I often find myself bored while reading them, and a lot of YA dystopians just seem too similar to me. When it comes to this genre I think I am a bigger fan of the classics, although they can be touch and go for me as well. I find that in classic dystopians, there is a wider range of societies and protagonists than in YA. Admittedly there are many classic dystopians that I haven't gotten around to yet (like 1984, yikes!) But I'm looking forward to picking them up!

The Handmaid's Tale is the story of Offred, one of the few fertile women left in the world. She only has one purpose, and that is to breed. Needles to say, Women are severely oppressed in this new world. They are not allowed to work, or have hobbies or friends. If you are a woman, you are either one of two things - a wife or a handmaid.

The world that we find in The Handmaid's Tale is terrifying. An early scene that stood out to me was one that depicted bodies hanging on the wall surrounding their town. Not only is the image of hanging bodies creepy enough, but the types of people that were being hanged really unsettled me. These people were persecuted for being enlightened thinkers. They were doctors, scientists, abortionists etc. This really resonated with me because we see this happening in our society all the time; whether it's people blowing up abortion clinics, debates on whether evolution should be taught in schools, or medical or scientific advances being frowned upon because they are viewed as us "playing God." I think Neil Gaiman said it best when he discussed the idea of dystopian fiction shedding light on contemporary issues:

"What speculative fiction is really good at is not the future, but the present - taking an aspect of it that troubles or is dangerous, and extending and extrapolating that aspect into something that allows people of that time to see what they are doing from a different angle and from a different place. It's cautionary."

~ Neil Gaiman, Introduction to Simon & Schuster's 50th Anniversary Edition of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The issues I mentioned above and the sexual, religious, and political themes present in the novel are all issues that are present in our society. Women deserve the rights to their own bodies, and seeing this taken away in such an extreme form was disturbing. It was also unnerving to see how religion influenced politics and the oppressing effect it had on women and society.

To be honest, I wish the world was fleshed out a little more because I was curious as to how our world became this horrible. On the other hand, I realize the ambiguity aligns with Atwood's message that this could happen to us at any time. We don't need a big apocalyptic event because we are already on our way there. In this world, people went from living their normal lives to living in this hell very suddenly.

I also thought this novel had a very interesting take on feminism. This novel is known to be a great piece of feminist literature, however some aspects of it didn't quite materialize in the way that I thought it was going to. Yes, this book is makes a statement on violence against women, but it was really interesting to see that radical feminism was one of the elements that led to this horrific world. It seemed to me that the people who were responsible for the world going to crap were the radical Christians and the radical feminists. This was definitely an angle that I wasn't expecting. It just goes to show that anything taken to the extreme can only cause mayhem and destruction.

Overall, this was a great book by a wonderful woman who makes me proud to be Canadian! I really enjoyed this book, and the more I think about it, the more my appreciation for it grows. I can definitely see The Handmaid's Tale being a book I may teach in my high school English class one day! ( )
  ceecee83 | Dec 27, 2016 |
This was my first experience reading anything by Atwood and, as I often do, I went into the story without knowing anything about it. It was really interesting and engrossing. It had some quirks, but mostly those quirks gave the story character and made it more interesting rather than being annoying or distracting.

The story takes place in the U.S., but women have lost all their freedoms. Childbirth rates have been drastically reduced, and a woman’s only true value is in her ability to have babies. A woman’s role in society is dependent on a combination of her childbearing abilities and whether or not she’s married to a powerful man. If a powerful man has a wife who can’t bear children, he’s given a handmaid to take up the slack. Our main character lived through the transition period. She grew up with freedoms along the lines of what would have existed when the author wrote the book in the 1980’s, but the society began to change when she was an adult. How this change affected our main character, and how the change came about in the first place, is what this book is about.

The story is told in the first-person present tense, by a woman who appears to be recounting her story verbally. She goes off on rabbit trails, she skips back and forth in time, and sometimes she starts to tell us something and then decides she doesn’t want to talk about it and leaves us hanging. Sometimes she tells us something and then says “no, that isn’t actually what happened”, as if she’s caught herself in the act of trying to make things sound better or more dramatic than they were, and then forces herself to be honest. It was really very well done, this written simulation of somebody telling a story out loud.

We’re never explicitly told our main character’s real name, although I thought it might be possible to figure it out by comparing a list of names mentioned at the end of the first chapter against some of the names she refers to in the third person throughout the story. There’s only one name from that list that she never mentions, which therefore may have been her own name, but there are also reasons to believe that may not have been the case.

Because of the nature of the story, with the narrator skipping around between older events and more recent events, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on in the beginning. The gaps are slowly filled in as the story progresses. As long as it’s written well, that kind of a story-telling device works really well for me. I like it when not everything is revealed in a linear fashion. I enjoy pondering the questions, trying to guess the answers, and then the satisfaction of finally getting those answers.

This is a pretty dark read. A lot of bad things happen, and there isn’t a lot of hope or very many bright spots throughout the story. I want to say it’s not terribly graphic, but there were a couple of scenes that were particularly awful. I don’t think the wording was that explicit, but the author still made it so clear what was happening that my imagination had no problem turning it into something more graphically disturbing. There is also a lot of ambiguity, particularly in how things end. We’re left not really sure how things turned out for our main character, but we have two main possibilities and evidence that could support either conclusion. This would normally annoy me, but really I just thought this whole story was very well done and I enjoyed thinking about what might have happened.

If anybody else reads this for the first time, make sure you don’t miss the “historical notes” at the end. They’re fictional notes, and they’re a critical part of the story. I was reading this as an e-book. Normally, when you reach the end of a Kindle book, you get a pop-up recommending other books you might be interested in. There may be some further back matter past that, but the story itself is expected to be over. I got that first pop-up just before the “historical notes”, making me think the story had ended there. Fortunately, I’m in the habit of paging past that first pop-up and at least glancing at the back matter, so I didn’t miss it. ( )
  YouKneeK | Dec 9, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 598 (next | show all)
how bleak and even terrifying we will not fully realize until the story's final pages. But the sensibility through which we view this world is infinitely rich and abundant. And that's why Miss Atwood has succeeded with her anti-Utopian novel where most practitioners of this Orwellian genre have tended to fail.
Ithink, As a cautionary tale, Atwood's novel lacks the direct, chilling plausibility of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. It warns against too much: heedless sex, excessive morality, chemical and nuclear pollution. All of these may be worthwhile targets, but such a future seems more complicated than dramatic. But Offred's narrative is fascinating in a way that transcends tense and time: the record of an observant soul struggling against a harsh, mysterious world. :D
Atwood is also the inventor, and developer, of the LongPen and associated technologies that facilitate the remote robotic writing of documents.She is the Co-Founder and a Director of Syngrafii Inc. (formerly Unotchit Inc.), a company that she started in 2004 to develop, produce and distribute the LongPen technology.She holds various patents related to the LongPen technologies.

While she is best known for her work as a novelist, she has also published fifteen books of poetry.Many of her poems have been inspired by myths and fairy tales, which have been interests of hers from an early age.Atwood has published short stories in Tamarack Review, Alphabet, Harper's, CBC Anthology, Ms., Saturday Night, and many other magazines. She has also published four collections of stories and three collections of unclassifiable short prose works.
How sad for postfeminists that one does not feel for Offred-June half as much as one did for Winston Smith, no hero either but at any rate imaginable. It seems harsh to say again of a poet's novel - so hard to put down, in part so striking - that it lacks imagination, but that, I fear, is the problem.
It's a bleak world that Margaret Atwood opens up for us in her new novel, ''The Handmaid's Tale'' - how bleak and even terrifying we will not fully realize until the story's final pages. But the sensibility through which we view this world is infinitely rich and abundant. And that's why Miss Atwood has succeeded with her anti-Utopian novel where most practitioners of this Orwellian genre have tended to fail.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Atwood, Margaretprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Balbusso, AnnaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Balbusso, ElenaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Battey, FrancesCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Danes, ClaireNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martin, ValerieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennati, CamilloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sibthorp, FletcherCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

And she said, Behold my maid Bihah, go in unto her, and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.
                              — Genesis 30:1-3
But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal. . .
                              — Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal
In the desert there is no sign that says, Thou shalt not eat stones.
                              — Sufi proverb
For Mary Webster and Perry Miller
First words
We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
As all historians know, the past is a great darkness, and filled with echoes. Voices may reach us from it; but what they say to us is imbued with the obscurity of the matrix out of which they come; and, try as we may, we cannot always decipher them precisely in the clearer light of our own day.
Time has not stood still. It has washed over me, washed me away, as if I’m nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a careless child too near the water.
The shell of the egg is smooth but also grained; small pebbles of calcium are defined by the sunlight, like craters on the moon. It's a barren landscape, yet perfect; it's the sort of desert the saints went into, so their minds would not be distracted by profusions. I think that this is what God must look like: an egg. The life of the moon may not be on the surface, but inside.
But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest. Maybe none of this is about control... Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.
There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia, freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it.
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The Reading Guide Edition is the substantial equivalent the main Handmaid's Tale work, with a few additional pages of questions for groups to consider at the back. Please therefore leave these works combined together. Thank you
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Wikipedia in English (4)

Book description
From the back of the book: 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 market 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, Offredd and the other handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offredd 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…..
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038549081X, Paperback)

In the world of the near future, who will control women's bodies?

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 only valued if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days 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....

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:22 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

A look at the near future presents the story of Offred, a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, once the United States, an oppressive world where women are no longer allowed to read and are valued only as long as they are viable for reproduction.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 13 descriptions

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