“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood was an amazingly powerful book. It is hard to explain how powerful this book is without spoilers, but I’ll try my best. This book takes place in the future after a staged terrorist attack kills the President of the United States and most of Congress. The U.S. Constitution gets suspended during the revolution by the “Sons of Jacob” (an extremist Christian group) and in a short matter of time all women’s freedoms and rights have been taken away and a new order comes into being that is almost medieval in its mindset.
“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” (The Handmaid’s Tale, pg 24). I really liked this quote. I think it illustrates well the power behind the word freedom and how easily it can be abused. How easily the Aunts are able to turn the word around and use it to attempt to make the handmaids feel grateful for their status. And how quickly the world was forced to change.
The different roles that women in this novel held based on their social situation were very interesting. The older married women were treated better externally, although they did not appear to hold the same amount of respect as the Aunts did. Then the handmaids – physically they were the most valuable because they could have children – but they were considered lowest on the totem pole because that was their only purpose. They weren’t allowed to have anything of their own. Should they get pregnant – as they were expected to do – they were never allowed to keep their children. They were treated like cattle, breeding for someone else’s benefit. “We are for breeding purposes: we aren’t concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.” (The Handmaid’s Tale, pg 136).
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was so well done and I believe it would be a good book to introduce someone that hasn’t read Margaret Atwood before to her writing. It’s not a super long novel, but it illustrates the beauty of her writing well. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Atwood before I picked this book up; it had simply been too long! Her books are gems, but they are intricate. This is by no means a “beach read.” Her books are challenging, but so worth reading.