reviewed by Amber Shockley
If ever there was an example of a cautionary tale, this is it.
In her 1985 novel, Atwood imagines a society in which an extreme set of religious values have taken over. Women are categorized according to their economic status and/or the viability of their ovaries. The latter are scant due to some apocalyptic event that is not described in any detail. Drawing on stories from the bible, thus defending their actions as based upon biblical principal, the society essentially forces women who are fertile to serve as baby producers, handmaids, for women of a higher standing who are not. The handmaids are stripped of all identity, even forced to take the names of their "commanders," for example, "Offred" (of Fred), the heroine of the novel.
It is difficult to name Offred heroine, however, because she is in such an impossible situation. By the end of her account, the world has not been saved.
Atwood has created a feminist dystopia, an antithesis to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland published seventy years previously. Even today, or especially today, Atwood's Tale is sure to spark thought and debate, as it should.
As a feminist and a person of faith, I can imagine that religious conservatives, especially fundamentalists, would be offended by the accusation that modern day life which mimics biblical events could result in the total subjugation of women, yet I find that this work illuminates for us all exactly how religion, especially religious texts, could/can be applied with horrific results.
Perhaps the most chilling part of this novel is the last few pages, wherein a group of academics living even further into the future look back on the events described in the novel in much the same way that we treat history today - with detachment and arrogance. This is a necessary read. - 5 stars