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 valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred 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 . . .
Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.
This is my fourth time reading this. What keeps me coming back? The intensity and real-world issues that take place in this story. What makes it terrifying is that women in many countries, issues presented, and the balance of power it is all real. It’s happened before and will, I’m sure, happen again. Where next? Only time will tell. And that is terrifying.
This story is told from the voice of Offred, a handmaid in Commander Waterford’s household. We see Gilead, a republic replaced by the previous United States. In Gilead, women are valued by their uterus and what fruit it bears. So, each month the commander attempts to impregnate them in hopes to produce a baby of viable life. For, with declining births, has become a rarity.
We see the terrifying and completely controlled life of a handmaid, her Martha, and her small controlled life. Struggling to live a sedate life with no ability to read or write, no entertainment, or friends and no voice, she remembers the time before. The time when she was married, a mother, and a friend. Now, things are banned. Words, literature, art, and recreation. Things like owning property, having money, and being able to be in public without a male counterpart.
What I found enthralling was that Offred’s spirit, no matter how battered, was never truly broken. There is a dormant fight in her and we see that in her thoughts, in her actions, and in her demeanor.
Atwood is very skilled at producing an amazing story that educates, warns, and shows what could happen in a world like ours.