The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood Review

The Handmaids Tale is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood.

Published in 1985, it portrays the fictional society of Gilead, a totalitarian regime in the United States. Under a fundamentalist regime, the protagonist Offred is a handmaid serving a Commander and his wife, in an effort to repopulate the country devastated by war.

The protagonist, Offred gives her account of the society and her experience as a Handmaid. There is very little description of her surroundings or clothing and a large focus on her interactions with other Handmaids, the Commander and his wife. Attwood’s use of quotation marks to show characters direct speech is sporadic. This means additional attention is required to follow informative conversations. The book shows the strong religious morality underneath the society the Handmaids are in, often saying “Blessed be” in conversation. The setting appears bleak, with little decorative clothing or make-up and very few examples of the Handmaids personal character traits.

Published in 1985, during a period of Second-wave Feminism, there is a regressive account of Women’s Rights in Gilead. Issues such as Reproductive rights, legal inequalities, social inequalities and family are discussed throughout. While there is a Feminist undertone it lacks intersectionality, even disregarding it. Moira, Offred’s friend, says in Chapter 28 that “The balance of power was equal between women” and that this makes relationships “even” interactions. This opposes the intersectionality in Feminism that acknowledges disparities in the equality women of different races, religions and ethnicities.

Offred’s personal life is not the focus of the book, it is mentioned that she has a young daughter whose whereabouts she does not know and was married to a man named Luke. In short flashbacks, she talks about her former life before the creation of Gilead and how she used to live. Despite this she does not provide context about how the previous society was overthrown and how the totalitarian state came to be. With no male main characters and few interactions with males apart from Nick, the experience of females is centred in the book. Definitely a Second-wave perspective of Feminism, without the deep analysis of male and female interaction and how this contributes to misogyny.

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