My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The United States is no more. Birth rates have plunged to a terrifying low and the Republic of Gilead has taken over to right things. The problem in their collective mind is people have gotten away from living life in a biblical manner. Gilead's changes started slowly. The first step was banning all women from working, but things got much worse. Gilead gathered their "natural resources," women they've deemed to be unwed who've had children. Gilead has tasked these women to have children for their commanders and their barren wives. In Gilead only women are deemed barren because it can't possibly be a man's fault. Offred is a woman who has had everything except her life stripped from her. Even the name Offred is not the one she was born with. It means of Fred, the commander whose household she's assigned to. She had a child with her husband, but her husband was divorced. In Gilead their marriage isn't recognized and so she's been taken to be a handmaid and her daughter was given to another family. The work of a handmaid is being forced to lay upon her commander's wife's knees as he attempts to impregnate her once a month.
"Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary."
So I don't know if Margaret Atwood should be viewed as an incredible writer or if she be viewed as a troubled sadistic mind. Atwood crafts an astonishingly terrifying and tortuous world with the Republic of Gilead. When people talk of men hating women and only valuing them for their bodies, they could easily point to the characters in this book. I don't have the imagination to fully appreciate the horror of this world. To strip all women of so much of their lives and some women of basically everything, makes me sick to think about. They did it to make things "better."
"Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some."
It's only better for men. For some women it's bad and for many it's a living hell.
So I realize this is an old book and much of the current interest is due to the TV show. That being said, past this point there will be spoilers and they won't be hidden.
You've been warned
There's absolute truth that people will do what they must to survive and this book is no exception. I accept that and know it's true. The handmaid's choose systematic rape, psychological torture, and having their identities erased just to stay alive. As Offred said, there is some choice. Not a great choice as the other choice is being labeled an unwoman and being sent to the colonies to clean toxic waste without protection. It's a death sentence plain and simple.
I also recognize that people are capable of incredible amounts of evil often in the name of some greater good. The rulers of Gilead literally steal rights from all women. They aren't allowed to read, own property, and to make choices for themselves. That's still kind compared to the life of handmaid's. The insane thing is the need for survival causes so many men and women to conform to the system rather than risk their own lives.
The only thing that felt unbelievable to me was the handmaid's themselves. Women being kidnapped and subjugated to unspeakable things is terrifyingly common historically speaking. The psychological torture and systematic rape is also not historically uncommon. What gets me is the power the rulers of Gilead still allow their wives. They have complete power over any woman they choose. So creating the handmaid's, with the men being limited in the way they can interact with them seems surprising. Granted the book only shows Offred's commander who doesn't seem devout at all. He flaunts the laws and doesn't seem overly concerned about it until the very end. Perhaps some of the rulers of Gilead are true believers, but Jezebel's makes me doubt it. I'm surprised the country didn't just scoop up the fertile women and split them up among the most powerful. Perhaps allowing a polygamy or creating harems because these powerful men must have heirs of course.
The Handmaid's Tale is a well written horror story of sorts that's too realistic to ignore.
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