Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale is a post-apocalyptic (though some would describe it as 'dystopian') memoir set in the near-future as told by a Handmaid. Women in this society are cast into unchangeable roles, women of childbearing age are trained as Handmaids and sent to live with a rich 'morally fit' husband and wife who are either to old or too sterile to bear children of their own. There are elaborate 'ceremonies' to reconcile this forced slavery with the strict religious views of the bourgeoisie couples who 'employ' the use of Handmaids. Women who are older or who have 'proven' that they cannot bear children and are therefore ineligible to become a surrogate are cast out to perform 'clean-up' work (women in this position rarely live more than a year), or are relegated to the role of a cook or a housekeeper.

Throughout the tale, the Handmaid recalls her 'normal' past and outlines how this mono-theocratic society came to be. The overall theme of the book is hope and strength under otherwise oppressive conditions.

This book specifically targets women, and is written to draw empathy for the main character, a woman who before the 'end' had a husband and child and a job and lived a very normal life. Margaret Atwood creates a believable yet surreal rendering of a future that is not that hard to imagine.

Too busy to read the book? It was also made into a cheesy movie: The Handmaid's Tale (1990)

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