Happy Halloween, Bookworms! Today we’re going to discuss one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book combines several of my biggest fears. First, I have an irrational fear of cult activity. I’m ALL ABOUT freedom of religion… Until your religion tries to take over a government. I also fear those who would take my autonomy. I know that it sounds ridiculous in 2012 to think any American male would seek to take away my right to vote, own property, or… read. Frankly though, that isn’t true the world over.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in the USA after a militant Christian group seizes power from the government. Actually, they sort of show up and machine-gun Congress… (I would absolutely not take this book as an attack on Christianity… It’s an attack on theocracy of any kind, but given Atwood’s audience she wisely assumed that biblical references would be most familiar.) This story is told from the point of view of Offred. Offred was once a typical American woman. She was married with a child and had a career and money of her own. It’s never really explained how it came to be, but it’s strongly implied that something (perhaps radiation?) has rendered a large portion of the female population infertile. Once the cult government takes over, they sift out the “fruitful” females and assign them to “deserving” men as handmaids. Any of you read my review on The Red Tent? The idea behind “handmaids” is Old Testament. Jacob has two official wives, Rachel and Leah. Rachel has trouble conceiving, and sometimes Leah just gets tired of popping out babies. Their solution is to bring on “handmaids” to conceive children in their stead. Like… rent-a-uterus. So the righteous yet infertile women get to have husbands and raise families… But the handmaids are the ones who actually have to birth the children… And suffer through the super creepy copulation ritual Atwood outlines. Gross. (Although, really, it’s sad for the “righteous” women too. They sure as heck aren’t fond of the copulation ritual either.)
Offred and the other handmaids in this tale are stripped of their names, their identities, their possessions, and their families. Literally, their names are changed from things like “Katie” and “Sandy” and “Lauren” to Of-insert-husband-here. So like, assuming my weasely husband was my “master,” I’d no longer be Katie, but Ofjim. They are treated as breeding stock and denied even the right to READ. Literally. The handmaids are in charge of some of the market duties and the new society has gone so far as to replace shop signs with pictograms to keep women from reading. KEEPING WOMEN FROM READING!!! The horror!!!
Thanks, Margaret Atwood, Children of the Corn hadn’t quite scared me enough. Just add the scariest cult EVER to the mix. Margaret Atwood is a completely amazing writer, and also Canadian. Politically, at least from my limited (seriously limited, I hate politics) understanding, Canada tends to be a bit more liberal policy-wise than the USA. I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that Atwood is quite liberal ideologically either. In fact, there’s mention in the book of an “underground female-road,” that spirits oppressed women from “Gilead” into Canada. Don’t worry, Ms. Atwood, I’m not offended that you made my home country into a scary dystopia. The book was too awesome to take offense. Anyway, this book was written in the 80s and Atwood was freaked out by the rise of the televangelist, who are often quite traditional when it comes to women’s roles. I can’t really blame her for being a little afraid of televangelists. I find Jack Van Impe quite frightening, myself.
This post is not about politics though. It’s not about religion either. I’m also not saying that televangelists want to machine-gun Congress and impose theocratic rule. I’m totally NOT CONDEMNING anyone’s universal right to believe in what they hold to be true… Unless what they hold to be true means that I don’t get to read, because I’m NOT okay with that. Seriously NOT OKAY with that. (Apologies to anyone who reads this who happens to love Jack Van Impe. You’re entitled. It’s just he makes funny faces that make for amusing screen caps. And he pronounces “robot” funny. I have a very animated face as well. It’s a good thing I’m not on TV.)
Have any of you bookworms read The Handmaid’s Tale? What did you think of it?