Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Spoilers in this text:

Last night, I finished The Handmaid's Tale from Margaret Atwood. The story originally appealed to me while I was flipping through titles on the Internet Archive. I have been using this website to find books and other media to browse in my new found quarantine free time. I had heard of this particular story before from both previous classes I had taken and the Amazon TV series based on the book.

I won't get into summarizing the story. However, to read this review without understanding the story should be feasible. To that end, you should know that The Handmaid's Tale follows the first-person perspective of the main character 'ofFred' in a dystopian regime which is a post-American religious  theocracy laden with elements of authoritarian systems. This theocracy is called Gilead. In this system, 'ofFred' takes on the role of a "Haidmaid" who serves in a family of the elite to bear children as a forced surrogate mother.

In the novel, Margaret Atwood's writing style allows the reader to place some of their own guesses into both what ofFred and others are thinking. The dystopian world building in the story is largely off the page throughout a large part of the novel and is instead pieced together by the reader through memories of the main character. We, the reader, are not meant to think hard about the nature of how the dystopian formed, but instead how the character lives within it. To this end, I believe that the story told is not meant to have readers consider the extremity of the world created by the author but instead consider how our world could be molded by similar extremists to fall into becoming an oppressive regime like that of Gilead.

The oppression that ofFred experiences is that of an enforcement. They play an essential role, the birth mother, yet are treated with limitations to nearly every action and thought. Similarly with other members of the Gileadean society, individuals are tempted with the thoughts of what they could do if not limited by the system. Later, when ofFred is seemingly ready to absolve herself entirely to the horrible system they are saved from the oppression by a secret sect of rebels.

At the last chapter, the reader can understand the perspective of the whole ordeal told in the novel. In this final chapter, the story as a whole is presented by a lecturing professor who is recounting recordings left behind by the character 'ofFred'. This lecture takes place roughly 200 or so years after the events of the novel in the same universe. However, the perspective take by the lecturer is one of analysis. This is somewhat strange as the reader is thrown from the dramatic climax of the novel's action into the calm reflective lecture which leaves many more questions to be answered. Indeed, the last words of the novel are those of the lecturer asking if anyone listening has questions.

The reader is set up to ask if themself if this oppression could happen again.


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