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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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21,66348161 (4.12)1282
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)

Recently added byarena50, strongasanoak, Cynical_Ames, private library, CarrCorner2, hyppo16
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» See also 1282 mentions

English (461)  Spanish (4)  French (3)  Catalan (2)  Finnish (2)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (478)
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The Basics

Offred is a handmaid living in a distorted, highly patriarchal world. She always wears red, and she has to abide by a strict set of rules. She is a vessel, and nothing more, at least outwardly. Inwardly, there is a struggle happening, a tale she has to tell.

My Thoughts

This is the review I was dreading. This book is a beloved, dystopian classic. And I didn’t like it that much. That’s vastly disappointing, because dystopian fiction is sort of my thing, but this didn’t hit any of the right buttons for me.

Firstly, the writing. It was written in a stream of consciousness style, and I appreciated why. Offred is not allowed to read or write, so we aren’t reading diary entries. We are directly inside her head, reading her thoughts. It’s very clever. And so irritating to read. Her similes and metaphors were bizarre. She would say off-the-wall things like something looks like a smell or feels like a color. And I just couldn’t stand it. I think I was supposed to find it unique and beautiful, but I kept noticing it and found it insipid. It read like a teenager writing their first poetry with the apparent assumption that poetry is weird. It wasn’t evocative like Atwood intended. Not for me, at least.

As for the feminist angle of the story, it hit some notes perfectly and others were quite flat. The world itself was a good example of any woman’s purest nightmare. Where a woman’s sexuality belongs to a man, not herself. Where we, as a gender, are subjugated to the point that the privilege of news or reading or sharing your thoughts is a crime depending on your status. The most terrifying part of the entire story for me was when the main character flashes back to when it all began. The day she lost her job and couldn’t access her bank account and discovered the reason was the men had taken over and decided to limit what women could have power of. And it was only the beginning.

But then what does Atwood do with this world? Anyone who revolts or is of a different religion or sexual orientation or anything they don’t like is killed, so revolution isn’t in the cards. I’m still not entirely clear on why any of it happened in the first place other than the men felt like doing it, which seemed thin to say the least. So we’re left with following Offred day in and day out, reading her weird, tangled thoughts, waiting for something to happen. When the story finally heads in a direction where something is happening, something that could change everything, it fizzles. And the end is left open to interpretation. I sort of wanted to sling the book across the room when I read that ending. The least it could’ve done was give me some closure, good or bad.

So from that above paragraph, what I’m trying to say is, Atwood really only succeeded in giving a worst case scenario that is indeed very frightening with nothing else particularly engaging about it. Offred is not a rebel. In fact, while she struggles with wanting independence, with raging inside at all she’s been through, the moments where she has a choice, she chooses to obey. Perhaps I was to believe that she was so beaten down that she felt no other choice, but it didn’t read that way to me. It read as someone seeking liberation who was too mixed up about what freedom is to make a choice that mattered. So even her liberation is just a form of obeying, and I was highly disappointed in that. Her friend we hear about on and off through the story, Moira, would’ve made a much more interesting protagonist. I wanted more of her and less of Offred really.

When I heard this book was a feminist story, I expected so much more from it. Less of this gray, drab complacence. Offred is not Winston in 1984. She is a drone who stays a drone, and we can’t even tell if her ending is a beginning or a tragic demise. I feel like this book gave me so little when I expected so much. For the record, if you want some very fearless feminism in your books, read Angela Carter. It’s much more satisfying.

Final Rating

2.5/5 ( )
  Nickidemus | Sep 18, 2014 |
A 1984-esque dystopia that imagines a world where the majority of women are viewed as nothing more than baby factories. The protagonist attempts to rebel and whether she fails or succeeds is up to whether you read the book or not . ( )
  Rosenstern | Sep 14, 2014 |
This is a book I can read over and over, and in fact have read over and over. Considering the dystopian nature of the world that the Handmaid's Tale is told in, I find it to have a great story that depicts the way women do actually see each other today. Though truthfully we (meaning modern women) do not wear certain colors to outwardly communicate our roles in the world, girls, young women, women and 'old' women move through the development and decline of our sexuality as depicted though the lens of our society. We are valued based on our beauty; youthfulness or at least the mimicry of youthfulness is valued more than the mind. In that way the modern society of today is the reverse of the world in the Handmaid's Tale; viable ovaries are more important than beauty. There is a significant amount of debate over the 'realities' of the world in Handmaiden's Tale, I have seen complaints that 'there's no way that something like this could happen in the timeline that Atwood has in the book', but if we really take a long look at our own world right now, there are instances of control over women's sexuality all over the world, many of which happened overnight. There are places in the United States where women do not have access to quality healthcare, there are places in the world where female circumcision happen everyday and there are places where women in recent history were able to walk out of their homes and drive or walk by themselves where now they have to worry about being raped, kidnapped or where they just cannot go anywhere without a male escort. I'm not saying that tomorrow the United States will turn into the world in the Handmaid's Tale, but freedoms can and do get slowly chipped away at, much of the time without notice until they are something very real. I will probably read the Handmaid's Tale again, if only to remind myself that I wouldn't be wearing red. ( )
2 vote ouladybird2005 | Jul 21, 2014 |
Read during Fall 2001

In an only so slightly future Cambridge, Massachusetts, the government has been taken over by Christian fundamentalists. Women are among the many enemies. The eeireness was highlited when I reazlied that most of it seemed to be taking place where I live and work in Cambridge. Written in 1985 but extremely topical now.
  amyem58 | Jul 11, 2014 |
I read this back when it first came out and it's even better this second time around. If anything, the almost 30 intervening years have made the book even more salient. Recent history make it even more frightening. ( )
  ScoutJ | Jul 9, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 461 (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 (29 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margaret Atwoodprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary 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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