Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

We know very little about the narrator of this story--we never even learn her real name. What we do know is that she is a woman in her early thirties, who at one time had a husband and daughter. Actually, at one time, she had pretty much everything the rest of us have-family, friends, a job, a pet, a bank account, books, a driver's licence, free will. When we meet her, her circumstances have changed in a drastic way. Women can no longer read, write, use money or hold jobs. They must behave in a very particular manner, and perform the duties of their specific roles. Though there is a hierarchy of women, none have freedom or any real power--except for the few who have power over other women. It is common for the women to either commit suicide or lose their minds. No one really knows what is going on, and how this all happened. The question our narrator faces is it better to simply go with the flow, do as she's told, don't think, remember, dream; OR should she look for little ways to rebel--make friendships, look at a magazine, sneak out at night?? In the end...will it really matter?

Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, written in 1983, paints the picture of our world taken to an extreme and then twisted a little more. Some say it can be taken as a warning. There are definitely elements in the novel that I can see becoming reality. Paper money, for instance--I can see in the not too distant future, paper money and coins becoming obsolete. Personally, I rarely use cash these days--plastic is much more convenient. However, I cannot imagine a world without written words. I do not want to imagine such a world.

From start to finish, I found The Handmaid's Tale difficult to put down. Atwood does not open the story with an explanation of what is going on, but instead, the reader must figure out as best as possible what the time period is, who is narrating and what has happened to alter the "normal" way of life. The way Atwood wrote the story is truly as though the reader is in the narrator's mind. There are passages that are similar to stream of consiousness. For example, "I wait, for the household to assemble. Household: that is what we are. The Commander is the head of the household. The house is what he holds. To have and to hold, till death do us part. The hold of a ship. Hollow" (81). This type of writing really makes the reader feel as though she is following the narrator through her thoughts. Oftentimes, as can be expected, her thoughts are lonely, depressed, "You can wet the rim of a glass and run your finger around the rim and it will make a sound. This is what I feel like: this sound of glass. I feel like the word shatter. I want to be with someone" (103).

What has happened to our narrator is utterly sad. But the small ray of light in this society is that though the women have been reduced to function solely for one basic purpose, they still have the power of their minds. There is an underground resistance. There is still hope for the future.

The story ends with a giant question mark, which tends to bother me. It makes me feel better when all the loose ends are tied up in a pretty little bow. However, such a thought-provoking book must end in a way to keep the reader pondering. I know this story will stay with me for quite some time. I definitely will be picking up other Atwood books!

Date completed: May 21, 2008
# of pages: 295
4.5/5 stars

*If you've read and reviewed this book, please let me know, and I'll include your link.


Trish said...

Ohhh, I like the blue! I'm glad you liked this book--this is one that I really really loved but have always been afraid of passing it on to others. One of these days I'll have to re-read it--I can remember that there is a giant question mark at the end, but I can't remember what it is. Darn memory!

Anna said...

Sounds like an interesting book. You seem to be flying through books especially now that you have a reading blog! I enjoy reading your blog. It is a rainy rainy day here today so I hope to read quite a bit...that's what rainy days are for, right? David is sleeping so I'd better get some work done!:) See you soon.

Stephanie said...

I loved this book! I read it a few years ago and thought it was great. Totally sucked me it!!

Katherine said...

I read this about five years ago in college for a women writers course. I don't know why, but there's something about Atwood's books that I don't like.

Dar said...

I recommended this book for my book club to read and everyone really enjoyed reading it. It's hard to imagine a world such as this but you're right there are a lot of things in our world now leaning in that direction. I too couldn't live without my books, nor with being so obedient and quiet. LOL. Anyhow at the time of reading this book I didn't have my blog yet so I didn't review it there but I did love the book. I agree on the ending though. It left us all thinking 'what next'. I like things to end on a bit more solid note myself.

Nymeth said...

It sounds like I really really have to read this one, and soon!

jessi said...

Great review! The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorite Atwood books - I've read it three or four times now. I agree with you about paper money becoming obsolescent; it's kinda cool to think that Atwood could have predicted something like that 25 years ago.

Becca said...

Did you read the epilogue? I felt like it answered some of the questions I had when I finished this book.

I don't know if you've read other Margaret Atwood books. If you haven't, I highly suggest "Oryx and Crake." Like all Atwood books it keeps you guessing until the end, but it's amazingly well written and thought provoking in the same way as "The Handmaid's Tale."