The Handmaid's Tale

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And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved by childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
—Chapter 34[1]

The Handmaid's Tale (1985) is a dystopian science fiction novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood that presents a scary future in a religious totalitarian society in which women have lost all control over their reproductive lives.

Criticial reaction can be summarized as "Oh, this loony Canuck is overreacting about Christian influence in American politi-DEAR GOAT! WHAT HAVE WE DONE?"

It won the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987.

Background to the story[edit]

Set in the United States following its transformation into a theocracy "Republic of Gilead," it follows the tribulations of Offred, a "handmaid" who belongs to a man named Commander Fred (hence the name, "Of Fred"). The premise allowing Atwood to critique control of women's sexuality and reproduction is the fact that in the book's post-apocalyptic setting, most women have become infertile. Women lose all value as anything but walking incubators. Women are classified by their economic background and their ability to have children. Those that have financial status are, or become, "wives." If they are unable to conceive, they are given a "handmaid" whose job is to conceive and bear the wife's child. Any handmaid who has had three failed pregnancies is killed. All women are denied any education, and reading is a criminal offense for them.

This dystopian (or utopian to a fundamentalist) novel is apparently considered a handbook for how to run the country by some people. Gender treachery has the death penalty, as do many other crimes. The Jews have been forced to convert or go back to Israel, though many (perhaps all) of the boats were scuttled, while the Children of Ham (what black people are called in Gilead) have been resettled in North Dakota (it's implied they are being killed there). And all are safe under the ever vigilant Eyes of God.

Modern comparisons[edit]

In the Handmaid's Tale, women's only true role is that of reproduction. For the Elite, sex is not supposed to be an act of pleasure, but a job that demands minimal time spent in the act itself.[2] The clear ties to a Puritan existence, where pleasure and sin are conflated, is easily apparent.

Caste system[edit]

Women in Gilead are divided into castes based on their "job":

  • Handmaids (The aforementioned walking incubators) wear red.
  • Wives wear blue.
  • Maids Marthas wear green.
  • Econowives, wearing a mix of red, blue, and green, serve men who cannot afford a more elaborate harem household.
  • Daughters wear white.
  • Jezebels who are sterilized prostitutes.
  • And so on.

Why you should read the book or see the movie[edit]

Adaptations[edit]

There have been two adaptations of the book. The first, made in 1990, was a film starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall, while the second, a TV series on Hulu starring Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Yvonne Strahovsky, and Joseph Fiennes, premiered in April 2017, to critical acclaim.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. https://sushublog.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/the-handmaids-tale-margaret-atwood/
  2. And exceptionally creepy, no matter the reader's sexual tastes.