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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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

by Margaret Atwood

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Title:The Handmaid's Tale
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Anchor (1998), Edition: 1st Anchor Books, Paperback, 311 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

1980s (1)
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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 also 1321 mentions

English (470)  Spanish (4)  French (3)  Catalan (2)  Finnish (2)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (487)
Showing 1-5 of 470 (next | show all)
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)

( )
  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 |
Margaret Atwood creates an engaging and heartbreaking dystopian world in The Handmaid's Tale. Set in a near distant future, this story is told from the point of view of a "hand maid" named Offred. Hand maids are young women who are used as a tool of reproduction and repopulation. Throughout the story, Atwood details the world Offred lived in prior to the events in the story, illuminates some aspects of what caused the world to change, and explores how the citizens of Gilead deal with their status as members of a police state. This novel explores gender roles in society and demonstrates just how tenuous our standing in society can truly be. The open ended conclusion to the story was quite satisfying as it left the reader with a variety of options for the fate of the protagonist and the larger world. ( )
  mfedore | Oct 17, 2014 |
This famous 1980s dystopian novel paints a vivid and bleak portrayal of a repressive regime (Gilead) set up in America after some kind of traditionalist right wing takeover, which involves placing most women in utterly subordinate roles as "baby carriers" for the wives of the ruling men in this society. Indeed, one of the new society's slogan is an ironic distortion of the famous Marxist Leninist slogan: "from each according to her ability, to each according to his needs". The new regime also destroys books, luxury items and clothes, and bans and represses all non-Christian religions, or indeed non-conforming Christians. An interesting scenario, though we don't really find out the back story as to how this perverted society arose until over half way through the novel. The coup apparently involved the massacring of the President and Congress, blamed on Islamic fanatics (though this is a throw away sentence which isn't explored any further); then comes suspension of the Constitution, censorship and closing down of the press, then laws stopping women from holding jobs or owning money or property (or even from reading books or magazines). By the time our unnamed Handmaid is telling her tale, the regime has been in place for a few years, though as she also says that the earlier pre-coup life is well within the memory of 14 year old girls, it seems a little surprising that the new order has embedded itself so completely in such a comparatively short time. We don't find out the ultimate fate of our heroine, though in a postscript set 200 years into the future, her tale is being discussed at an academic conference as a source of evidence of Gileadean theocracy.

Despite this fascinating scenario and the commentary it no doubt provides, to a degree, on right wing Christian fundamentalism in the United States, I didn't really much enjoy reading the novel. I found the author's writing style a bit of a chore in a number of places and novels written in the present tense tend to grate on me. It was sometimes unclear whether the Handmaid was describing events in her present or her past and exactly how other events related to each other in time. So, a significant novel but not, in my view, a great one. ( )
  john257hopper | Oct 17, 2014 |
It has taken me much thought as to how to put into words how good this book is. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Margaret Atwood did not write historical romance, like I thought, but actually wrote thought provoking science fiction. The Handmaid's Tale is one of those rare books that was written in 1986 but showed some amazingly accurate insights into the future.

Some of the events that have occurred to create this world that Margaret Atwood wrote are strangely linked to the political climate at present. The book tells the story of one main character who we never find out her name. Through her reflections back we slowly learn what has happened to her and how the world that is described came about. There is interesting visual references made to the colour of dress that main characters wear and this has left me thinking what the author was trying to tell us with the colours she used.

This is simply a beautiful tale that I urge anyone to pick up. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and have added Margaret Atwood to my list of authors I would like to read more from. A must read. ( )
  samarnold1975 | Oct 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 470 (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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