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Book Review: The Controversial The Handmaid’s Tale

“Blessed be the fruit”.

“May the lord be open”.

Two women in red, their faces hidden by white cloth for modesty, walk in tandem to a sign with a symbol of a pork chop representing the meat market, for women are now forbidden to read in the Republic of Gilead. The Handmaid’s Tale takes the reader into a dystopian society where women are mere reproduction machines and are sent away to The Colonies, (a radioactive wasteland) if infertile. This novel inspired by Margaret Atwood’s speculations of the future is intriguing, yet so gruesomely written you will cringe enough to slam your book shut. The reader experiences the life of a handmaid through the eyes of Offred. Offred’s new responsibilities as a handmaid are to reproduce, attend the Prayvaganzas, Salvagings, Birth days, and reproduce again. However, each handmaid has a designated Commander they must reproduce with; keep in mind, the Commander is married. Each woman in Gilead has been wiped clean of their previous personas and renamed according to which Commander they are assigned to, in this case, Of-Fred.  

Trapped in this rotten society where women have been devalued to mere reproduction machines, paranoid of the government spies The Eyes, and longing to break the chains of her confinement in the Commander’s house, Offred takes risks that put her in danger of being caught by The Eyes. She daydreams of her past life with her husband and young daughter, of summer walks in the park for ice cream, a time when she had her own job and could still read books.

In a scene at the dairy shop, Offred and her assigned shopping partner, Ofglen, witness a pregnant handmaid whose belly swells “triumphantly”, “She’s a magic presence to us, an object of envy and desire, we covet her. She’s a flag on a hilltop, showing us what can still be done: we too can be saved”. Atwood uses victorious diction to emphasize the competitive aspect of the handmaids’ lives, their lives are at risk if they can’t become pregnant.

This novel is heavy and gory at times, but intriguing and mysterious. It’s not a light read but, it is still worth your time if you enjoy dystopian novels with a realistic plot. The Handmaid’s Tale will have you on the edge of your seat to see Offred’s next move. Will she escape, or stay trapped in oppressed Gilead society?