The Handmaid’s Tale written by Margaret Atwood was originally published in 1985 but touches the reader as though it was written today. This well written novel of a dystopian society scarily coincides with what takes place with women’s rights and politics today.
Ofred (the main character) is a handmaid and lives in what is essentially America, but is extremely micro-managed by the religiously extreme government entitled the Republic of Gilead. This Republic divides women into classes of legitimate or illegitimate. Legitimate women are then classified as either wives, daughters, handmaids, aunts, marthas and econowives. The illegitimate women are classified as either unwomen or jezebels. The handmaids are women who have voluntarily (or should I say involuntarily) offered themselves as basically sex slaves, but not for sex, but rather to consistently reproduce for the “wives” they are assigned to. That’s right, if a woman is considered fruitful “blessed be the fruit” she is called a handmaid and then is assigned to a wife and husband (or commander) who are not. The handmaid is basically a surrogate and serves no other purpose is life but that. The process to become impregnated is torturous to read and feels more like rape. The handmaid is to lie in bed with her head on top of the wife’s pelvic bone, hold the wife’s hands and then allow the husband of the wife to penetrate her (the handmaid). While reading this I actually said out loud “did it really just say that?!”.
Once a handmaid produces a child for the family, she is considered highly valuable and is sent to another family to do the same thing. Once a handmaid can no longer reproduce (whether she hits menopause or not) she is essentially sent out to pasture. Does Ofred remain trapped in this society or does she manage to escape to freedom in what is today’s Canada? Does she give birth or is she sent away as a useless woman?
Written with such raw depths of emotion and confusion, this novel is at times curious, relentless, humorous, downright torturous and terrifying while ironically providing a sense of optimism. Margaret Atwood’s ending to the story leaves the reader unknowing while knowing everything. The Handmaid’s Tale is such a predominate piece of literature that it is considered a classic and must-read for men and women, young and old. I highly recommend this novel, for it surely will leave you stunned and breathless.