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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale (original 1985; edition 1998)

by Margaret Atwood (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
30,57485951 (4.11)1916
This 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.
Title:The Handmaid's Tale
Authors:Margaret Atwood (Author)
Info:Anchor (1998), Edition: 1st Anchor Books, 311 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Read before 2000

Work details

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

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    krazy4katz: An upside down recommendation, as this is an "all-women" utopia rather than a dystopia, but a fun read.
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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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(see all 61 recommendations)

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I first read this book in 2009, but didn't write a review. I have just reread it in preparation for reading "The Testaments" and was overwhelmed by the cruelty and the sadistic nature of the society described in the original book. "The Handmaid's Tale" is the fictional history of how the United States government was overthrown in a single day. Taking its place was a right wing anti-feminist, male based society concerned with the most fundamental of women's duties — the duty to procreate. Apparently there had been a lot of exposure to toxins that had dramatically reduced fertility of the nation, so that it was up to women who were shown to be fertile to provide society with the next generation of children. Women were divided into several groups: the econowives, who were married to poor men and no one cared about them; the upperclass wives, who couldn't have children with their husbands (although it was just as likely to be the husband's fertility problem as the wife's); the Marthas, whose job it was to cook and clean and, finally, the Handmaids. The Handmaids, all dressed in red, were the fertile women who would be forced to have sex with the Commanders, the high profile men, in order to bear children that would be raised by the wives. This was a dangerous position because if the man was actually infertile, the woman could lose her position and be sent to live in the colonies where expendable people were used to clean up radioactive waste and other toxic substances. Interestingly, this is all justified by the Bible. The handmaid we meet, Offred, reminisces about her life before the establishment of Gilead, when she had a child and a beloved boyfriend, and contrasts it to her situation now. The story gives a glimpse of her life, her ability to communicate with other women, and the restrictions placed on her: not allowed to write or read, not allowed entertainment etc. It was painful to read again, but I am glad I did in preparation for Margaret Atwood's new book for which she has just won the Booker Prize. ( )
  krazy4katz | Oct 14, 2019 |
After the somewhat bittersweet experience of reading [book:The Testaments|42975172] earlier this month, I e-borrowed The Ur-text from the library. This was an experience I absolutely LOATHED from giddy-up to whoa. I will not do it again unless there is no conceivable means of buying the ebook or borrowing the tree-book ever again in the annals of civilization. I will say no more about it unless I am under subpoena.

While there is no way to recapture the frisson of reading this horrific dystopian warning cry for the first time, it is instructive to compare Author Atwood's peak-of-powers prose to the newer book's less deft, more thudding verbiage. This book is urgent and unexpectedly pleading, begging its readers to STOP AND THINK, to look at each instinctive flinch attendant on Offred's systematic and outrageous disassembly as a whole, discrete, thinking being; perhaps more appalling is her reassembly into Offred, a uterus with legs, a creature of the powers who need and thus abhor her. It is telling that the sections of the 2019 book that come close to this level of power and passion are those told by Aunt Lydia...a horrible, vile being much more complete in my mind after The Testaments than it could ever hope to have evoked on my first reading of this book.

The intellectual Author Atwood, the one who beat me senseless with her current book, is decidedly less present in this book. In her place is terrified, outraged Mother-of-Daughter Margaret, begging me to THINK about the world; I listened then, I listen now, caught in Mother's howling anxiety for her daughter, whose horrorshow is here spread out, because it is deeply personal. That feat isn't replicable. That's why reading this book is an irreplaceable experience; re-reading it is, with the best will in the world, never going to live up to that.

But damn me for a fool if it wasn't worth every awful moment. ( )
1 vote richardderus | Oct 12, 2019 |
When the #metoo movement hit big in October 2017, there was a call for people to speak out about their experiences as victims of sexual violence. There were men, men like myself, who joined in the chorus and were promptly shut down. “This isn't for you,” was the general response. You don't belong here. And so, I was a good little victim still playing the role: I tucked my tail between my legs, turned my head down, and kept my mouth shut.

For some time I've been curious about The Handmaid's Tale, but I've been dragging my feet. The only reason I'm finally giving in is because The Testaments was placed on this year's Booker Prize list, and I figured I should probably read these books in their proper order. It was as I began reading on page one that I realized why I'd been hesitant all this time. I heard that voice saying this isn't for you.

I've been told about The Handmaid's Tale. I've heard the highest praise and the greatest criticism, primarily from women, who love it or hate it. Some readers have called it powerful, affecting, a rally to rise up against the patriarchy. In the same room, other readers called it depressing, distasteful, man-hating. Going into this book, I expected Margaret Atwood herself, along with every character, reaching out of the pages to point their finger at me and say, “You see, you are the problem.” But that wasn't the case.

Sure, feminist themes feature heavily in The Handmaid's Tale. It is told from a female perspective after all. But this novel really does take on more of a humanist approach to things. This is a warning against extremism. Some readers have called Gilead “a society ruled by men,” separating individuals into camps of good and evil based entirely on gender; yet, they've somehow ignored the fact that the majority of men we see in this story are victims of executions, hunters and hunted, or at the very best, subjugated to a life of servitude. (Oh, what a life!) Those who wield the power are men, but in this complete cast of characters, how many of these powerful men are there?

So some readers may be hesitant to pick up this novel. They may think this story isn't theirs for whatever reason. Someone may have even told them “this isn't for you.” Yes, The Handmaid's Tale shows the extremes of sexism and religion on a society, but it is not misandrist or anti-religious. This is a story of what happens when you abuse these roles. These are issues that affect so many of us. This is a world that should be terrifying for us all.

The Handmaid's Tale is a story for all of us.

I'll briefly go into my thoughts about the novel itself before I close. Atwood really does craft a well-drawn world in Gilead. Sure, she borrows quite a bit from historical images and events, but she brings them all together in a way that is incredibly eerie and startling. I think Atwood's choice to make “Offred” somewhat complacent was a good one. Taking a very radical approach wouldn't have given the reader the same idea of what life was like for a handmaid. The story was well formulated. I've heard some people hold it up as “the feminist 1984,” and while I understand the sentiment behind the comparison, the biggest difference is that this story is a well-written piece of fiction. The Handmaid's Tale is far more daring and brave in its composition and telling.

There were a few points that distanced me as a reader, the most notable were 1) the disconnect that exists between the contemporary setting and the pre-Gilead existence—the two events seem much too close in time for individuals and society as a whole to have so easily misplaced their memories of former years; 2) “Offred” seems to step out of believability by being so trusting—if your oppressor tells you reading is illegal, then invites you in for a game of Scrabble, the correct response (assuming you want to live) should be along the lines of “Gee, I'd like to, but there's this little problem and I seem to have forgotten my letters.” If she really were that fearful, she should've at least shown considerable hesitation. I don't know, perhaps I missed something. She just didn't always seem to give the most authentic response given her situation.

I'm glad I finally had reason to read this novel. It may have parts that are slightly dated, and it may have been emulated a hundred times in the last three decades, but it really does stand up well in 2019—perhaps even more so. ( )
1 vote chrisblocker | Oct 11, 2019 |
Ah, here we go. The Review.

Lots to say about this one but probably not what you’d quite expect. I’m not in the “I’m obsessed with this book” or “Atwood is a genius” camp, nor am I in the “This book wasn’t for me” or “I just don’t get it” camp. I’m somewhere in the more contemplative middle.

Initial reflections: Was I shocked? No. Do I think Atwood a genius? No. Am I obsessed now? No. Did this book make me think? Yes. Am I glad to have read it? Yes. Is it a cautionary tale of humanity’s darkest potential? Yes. (If you disagree with me here - “But this would never happen. It’s too far-fetched.” - do some digging into NXIVM ... you’ll find it a small microcosm of The Handmaid’s Tale. Real life. Over the course of the last 20 years. It’s eerie in its similarities.)

Other thoughts:
I put this book in the same wheelhouse as The Giver, Brave New World, 1984, and similar “thinker” dystopian-based books that address really complex societal issues and force the reader to engage and ask questions. These books never end up on my personal favorites lists but, as an English teacher, I can say with certainty that they add value to the discussion. This is one of those books that opens another door to conversations about societies, our role within them, and humanity as a whole.

Personal bookish preferences:
I devour a book with a rich setting and a fast-paced plot (usually). I’ll admit that halfway through I started getting antsy (bored?) and flipped to the back a few times in hopes I could will myself to keep pressing on. The last third of the book picked up pace. Until that time though, it was slower going (but still interesting enough to continue without throwing in the towel).

So, have you read this one? Which camp are you in? Loved it and a little obsessed? Not for you, didn’t get it, hated it? Or are you like me, sitting back, contemplative, watching both sides debate? ( )
  justagirlwithabook | Oct 7, 2019 |
A Tale For Men Too

The story is about a dystopian society as seen through the eyes of the main character, a woman. The relationships that the character forms shed light on the concerns we might have if this Gilead were to come true. Men will find this an illuminating look at a woman's life in a dystopian society. ( )
  etony33 | Oct 7, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (46 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Atwood, Margaretprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Balbusso, AnnaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Balbusso, ElenaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boyd, FlorenceCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Danes, ClaireNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
David, JoannaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moss, ElisabethNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennati, CamilloTranslatorsecondary 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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