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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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22,78453753 (4.12)1402
Title:The Handmaid's Tale
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Anchor (1998), Edition: 1st Anchor Books, Paperback, 311 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

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Showing 1-5 of 517 (next | show all)
While this book was well written, it just wasn't my cup of tea. Because it seemed to lack an actual storyline and because it became simply an explanation of a potential political horror for women, I never really got into it. The most interesting part for me was the "historical notes" part at the end. Kind of wish I had put it down when I knew I wasn't enjoying it. ( )
  ToriC90 | Sep 28, 2015 |
This was September's BOTM read.
The Handmaid's tale is set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population. The story is told from the point of view, of a Handmaid, Offred. Her job is to be an incubator of sorts, she has a history of being fertile, so it is her role to produce a child for a Commander and his Wife, in a strict biblical sense.
Because I didn't fully understand the social structure I did a little research and I found a great synopsis of the women's social class on VirtueFiction.com:

The highest class of women is the “Wives”—those married to officials and other elite. Wives may adopt or naturally acquire “Daughters”, while all others seek the service of Handmaids. Domestic duties of ruling-class households are undertaken by typically older and infertile subservient women known as “Marthas.” Forming the middle-class are “Econowives.” This group of fertile women is married to the non-elite and performs all domestic duties, such as childrearing and cooking. The most autonomous class is the “Aunts”—literate, unmarried and infertile women who train and watch over the Handmaids. The remaining women who cannot integrate into this social order are deemed “Unwomen” in the eyes of the state and banished to the forced labor camps, where the unlucky suffer a slow death cleaning up toxic chemicals.

I liked the book. Was I frustrated that we never found out what happened, a little. But there were the historical notes, and I got it. She wanted it to be like a piece of History. Like Anne Frank's diary. A snapshot, not a full story. In a way I think it made me think more, it made me focus more on the issues Atwood wanted brought to life, and less on the character. I feel like the true purpose was the social commentary on where she feels society is going, which per the BBC interview she still feared as of 2002, and the character was actual unimportant besides being a way to relay the message.
The message was to not give up our civil liberties to protect us from a fear, that can lead to repression and/or Totalitarianism. In the interview she said she finds things currently happening in our country disturbing, for example the Eyes in the book use the eye symbol from the dollar bill as their logo, so does homeland security. I get it, I can see how she would be fearful. The rise of the tea part, and all the legislation that has been tried to be passed that removes the separation of state and church, I get it. Atwood saw things that disturbed her about our country and our society (remember this was written in the Regan years). And she used the medium she had and knew to express her concerns. All the how's are not important, if it was like Anne Frank's Diary, the reader would know the general facts anyways. I think the book is more about the message and not about the how's or the characters.
Maybe it's just me but after reading any of the parts where Offred discusses being separated from her daughter I had to go sit with mine to calm down. Is it a mommy thing? I also had trouble sleeping those nights and would have to check on the kids multiple times. I read the kindle version and I liked it so much I feel the need to add as a paperback to my shelves, I finished and immediately bought from Amazon.
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1 vote Serinde24 | Sep 27, 2015 |
Set in a dystopic world, women are tightly controlled and regimented by society. Offred is a handmaiden, her sole purpose is to have a child for Fred and his wife. Once a month, she is taken to their bedchamber, and in a weird ménage troi, hopes to conceive. While she remembers life before, it seems more like a surreal dream to her now. Overall, I thought this was an interesting premise. The book was well written and engaging. However, at the end, it seemed that the author was trying to spark a scholarly debate, which was a bit off-putting. 3 out of 5 stars. ( )
  JanaRose1 | Sep 22, 2015 |
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood Finished 9/10/15

A timely book, even if it is 30 years old, [The Handmaid's Tale] is Margaret Atwood's novel about life in a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. Out-of-control pollution is devastating the earth; earthquakes in the western United States have damaged nuclear power plants, allowing radioactivity to escape. Because of sterility caused by this pollution (and drug-resistant strains of VD), the birth rate has plummeted. Food is in short supply. In the midst of the turmoil, control of the U. S. government is seized by a mysterious, anonymous group.

The broad goals of this new regime are irrelevant to the tale's narrator. What is relevant is that women are methodically stripped of most human rights. This nation, known as the Republic of Gilead, is totalitarian, guided by twisted interpretations of the Old Testament. Every citizen is repressed, but women most of all. Women can't own anything, can't have a job, can't vote. They aren't even allowed to read.

Women are rudely, crudely sorted into color-coded roles. The spouses of the elite men, upper managers perhaps, are designated "Wives" and wear blue clothes. Natural and adopted female children are called "Daughters" and dress in white. Spouses of working men are labeled "Econowives" and dress in red, blue, and green smocks. Household workers are designated "Marthas" and wear green clothes. Sterile women, widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and politically dissident women are this society's detritus, labeled "Unwomen" and banished "to the Colonies," where they are worked to death or succumb to pollution-induced disease.

The story is told by a 33-year-old woman, married with a daughter of about 8, who had been captured and separated from her family when they tried to sneak across the border into Canada. Do the math: This social rearrangement happens quickly. Within five years perhaps? Even the narrator muses: “It has taken so little time to change our minds about things”.

The tale spools out with intermittent flashbacks, in which we learn about her life "in the time before" and how she's come to be where she is.

Her marriage has been voided (because her husband was divorced) and, because she is judged to be fertile—she has a daughter, doesn't she?—she's offered a role as a "Handmaid." If she rejects it, off to the colonies! A Handmaid is a sort of temporary concubine assigned to an infertile Wife. Every 28 days, the family conducts The Ceremony, in which all in the household—including Marthas and Daughters—gather to hear the man, called "The Commander," read some scripture and lead them in prayer. Then it's off to the bedroom with the Wife, Handmaid, and Commander, where the Commander copulates with the Handmaid as she lies between the spread (but clothed) legs of the Wife. There is no romance, no affection, no foreplay, no kissing or hugging. Get the job done! Make a baby!

The entire concept is corrupt, of course. Failure to become pregnant is tolerated only so long. By definition, Commanders are not sterile, so failure must reside with the Handmaid. Since both Wife and Commander benefit from a pregnancy, both offer the Handmaid opportunities to mate with men other than the Commander. The Commanders do get horny (and visiting diplomats and especially trade emissaries do need entertainment), so private, discrete gentlemen's clubs staffed with Jezebels are government sanctioned.

Is it a spoiler to report that this tale surfaces in 2195 at an academic conference focused on the republic that was known as Gilead? Two scholars present a transcription of a batch of tape cassettes unearthed in Bangor, Maine. The same (unknown) woman's voice is on every cassette, and collectively, her story is reported.

Of course I liked the book.
  weird_O | Sep 21, 2015 |

I really enjoyed the erratic way this book built upon itself. The chopped timeline seemed to mimic the confusion and speed with which she got to her situation. I thought Atwood did a great job of illistrating how a truely world changing event could happen without the vast majority of people fulling understanding whats going on. This also showed the fragility of the internetas a medium becayse it seems like control of information would be shuch a powerful tool in any true usurption of power.

Good book, I still struggled to truely connect to the charature. ( )
  FarmerNick | Aug 31, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 517 (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 (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Atwood, Margaretprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Battey, FrancesCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Danes, ClaireNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martin, ValerieIntroductionsecondary 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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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 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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