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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale (original 1985; edition 2006)

by Margaret Atwood

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21,98949259 (4.12)1327
Title:The Handmaid's Tale
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Cornelsen Verlag GmbH C (2006), Paperback, 136 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

Work details

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

1980s (1)
  1. 544
    Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (cflorente, norabelle414, Schwehnchen)
  2. 403
    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (ateolf)
  3. 332
    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (readerbabe1984, rosylibrarian, ateolf, browner56)
    browner56: Two chilling, though extremely well written, reminders that liberty, freedom, and self-determination are not idle concepts.
  4. 304
    Brave New World & Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley (fannyprice)
  5. 215
    The Road by Cormac McCarthy (mrstreme)
  6. 110
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (smiteme)
  7. 209
    The Giver by Lois Lowry (cflorente)
  8. 90
    Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (krazy4katz)
    krazy4katz: An upside down recommendation, as this is an "all-women" utopia rather than a dystopia, but a fun read.
  9. 90
    The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (smiteme)
  10. 178
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (wosret)
  11. 157
    V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (readerbabe1984)
  12. 80
    The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper (lesvrolyk)
  13. 80
    Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (sturlington)
  14. 91
    We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (themephi)
  15. 81
    The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (LamontCranston)
  16. 70
    When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (sparemethecensor)
    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)
  17. 70
    I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman (wosret)
  18. 82
    The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (bookcrushblog)
  19. 61
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  20. 61
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Schwehnchen, mcenroeucsb)

(see all 50 recommendations)


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» See also 1327 mentions

English (472)  Spanish (4)  French (3)  Catalan (2)  Finnish (2)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (489)
Showing 1-5 of 472 (next | show all)
Okay. Not a particularly interesting dystopia, nor did it contain an interesting account of how such a dystopia arose. Only a couple of characters had any depth, somewhat ironically for a book depicting a male dominated dystopia all the male characters are especially one dimensional and little seen or heard from. The final chapter creating a futuristic academic angle on the whole affair added little.

It's meh, there are many better dystopian books out there, like A Canticle for Leibowitz, and there are better works of science fiction dealing with gender, like The Left Hand of Darkness. If you're interested in either of those genres and have already read the books I just mentioned, you might want to give this one a try, but keep your expectations reasonable. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
One of the most frightening books I've ever read. Atwood creates a world where women are reduced to the function of their wombs; the state and religion combine to keep women subservient, illiterate and fecund. It is hard to believe this book is nearly 30 years old as the issues explored seem eerily current. ( )
  martensgirl | Nov 26, 2014 |
The Handmaid's Tale was a really emotionally moving book for me. First of all, that the book was published in 1985 but the way it envisions the Christian evangelical theocracy feels so relevant to this moment--I'm sure as we're on the same political wavelength, I don't have to go into too much detail (Joni Ernst, fetal homicide legislation etc. etc.). The entire book is a gut punch. I take back all I said about being leery of Atwood's feminism based on how she depicts relationships between women and how her narratives characterize female characters. And yet, I do think that in Cat's Eye and the MaddAddamm books, female characters have internalized patriarchy's ideology of women has needing to compete for the male gaze and having no/little empathy for each other. And yet in this book where patriarchy--actual literal patriarchy--structures the world, we finally see more nuanced relationships between women. I feel that especially the way she writes about Janine and the narrator's warring self-disgust at her own treatment of Janine along with her indulging in the "mean girl" world the patriarchy constructs is what doesn't come out in the other books. And even though race is a glancing issue--the Tribe of Ham sent out to the colonies to pick cotton--it's much more nuanced and interesting than the way she writes about it in MaddAddamm, which is to say, not to write about it but have token characters of color who fall into racialized stereotypes (See Geisha Girl both Oryx and Katherine Wu).

Which is a really long digression to say that I've heard there is a tv production coming out of MaddAddamm and I didn't like the idea of it at all because I think a lot of the really visceral stuff will be watered down and I'm not sure that this story will adapt well to the medium. But The Handmaid's Tale (also, parenthetical wow the implication of academia and dehumanization at the end! it is hard to read the epilogue!)! I would give anything to see that made into a series! I think the narrative would work well for the medium too, but alas, I don't think we'd get something so critical of misogyny, religion and especially evangelical Christianity to make airwaves, which proves its own troubling point. ( )
2 vote endlesserror | Nov 25, 2014 |
Was going to be a three, but I liked it more after reading her chapter about it in her [b:In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination|10356713|In Other Worlds SF and the Human Imagination|Margaret Atwood|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328311650s/10356713.jpg|15259682].

Dystopian elements checklist:

-New names for current geopolitical locations (Gilead, National Homeland One);
-Forced propaganda consumption, often about vanquished foes ("…after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.");
-Constant surveillance (the Eyes)
-Being forced to hide true emotions due to aforementioned constant surveillance ("…the voice is placid, flat, unrevealing. We pass the first checkpoint without saying anything further.")
-Remaining true to yourself "inside" despite aforementioned hiding of true emotions ("…I can feel speech backing up inside me, it's so long since I've really talked with anyone.")
-Ironic government slogans ("God Is A Natural Resource")
-New gov't bodies/orgs (The Commanders)
-Scapegoat/victimize to consolidate power (Mob killing of accused rapists)
-Everyday resistance ("…an event, a small defiance of rule, so small as to be undetectable, but such moments are the rewards I hold out for myself… such moments are possibilities, tiny peepholes.")
-Organized resistance ("…the Appalachian Highlands, says the voice-over, where the Angels of the Apocalypse, Fourth Division, are smoking out a pocket of Baptist guerrillas, with air support from the Twenty-frist Battalion of the Angles of Light.")
-Class structure, haves and have-nots ("It's only for officers…from all branches; and senior officials. And trade delegations of course. It stimulates trade. It's a good place to meet people. You can hardly do business without it…No nicotine-and-alcohol taboos here! You see, then do have some advantages here.")
-New vocabulary (Unwomen, Econowives, Marthas, etc)
-Remembering 'before' (tons! Life with Luke and her child, the transition of power)

( )
1 vote behemothing | Oct 25, 2014 |
Margaret Atwood’s nightmarish story of a totalitarian future will leave you very unsettled.


In a world where radiation has caused much of the population to become infertile, a totalitarian regime has changed everyones way of life. Offred is a handmaid, she is sent to live with a Commander and his wife, in the hope that she will bring them a child. She must endure ritualistic ceremonies and pray that the Commander will make her pregnant. If she produces a healthy child she will be safe, not banished to the colonies and deemed “unwoman.” Littered with flashbacks to “the time before” we see Offred’s past and how much of that is now gone.


I read this book as part of a science fiction module at university, and it blew me away. It’s the sort of book I’m still thinking about and still turning over in my head even though I finished it a while ago. It’s definitely a book everyone should read in their lifetime. The writing is incredible, told in a first person narration style, we get an intimate look at Offred’s life - we do not know her actual name, each handmaid takes the name of their commander Ofglen, Ofwarren. Their lives are controlled down to the minutest detail. One of the interesting things that really struck me about the novel is how believable it all is, this horrifying, nightmare could actually happen - in fact Atwood herself said that she didn’t put anything into the story that had not already happened somewhere in the world. That gives me a shiver down my spine, the idea that our world could so easily be turned upside down. Throughout the book Offred references the past, the small things that change that at first you don’t really bother about, the the loss of jobs for women, the controlling of their money and slowly but surely the complete destruction of the way everything once was.

There are so many interesting characters in this novel. If I had time I would go into immense detail about them all, but I don’t want to spoil the story. I found the Commander and his wife extremely interesting. The Commander who asks Offred to play Scrabble with him and complains that “men have nothing to do.” The hard, unforgiving Serena Joy, the commander’s wife, formerly an activist for women to stay in the home, who unfortunately got her wish and then some. One of my favourites has got to Moira, Offred’s best friend from the time before, we catch snippets of her through the story, and her inherent will to survive is astounding.

The “Historical Notes” which end the novel is a particularly interesting chapter, provided as a lecture in the future, in which a group of scholars are discussing Gilead - though they are not there to judge, simply to uncover the truth behind the regime - is such an ironic, satirical chapter that it definitely adds to Atwood’s wonderful, quirky style. I’ve spoken to a few people who have read other Atwood novels, and they all come highly recommended, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into another one of her wonderful, unusual novels. ( )
  ColeReadsBooks | Oct 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 472 (next | show all)
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.
added by Shortride | editTime, Paul Gray (Feb 10, 1986)
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 (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margaret Atwoodprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Battey, FrancesCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary 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 withold 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.
Last words
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Disambiguation notice
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 (6)

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…..
Haiku summary

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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:40 -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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