Rachel's Reviews > The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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May 13, 12

bookshelves: fiction
Read in May, 2012

The review from the Houston Chronicle says, "Atwood takes many trends which exist today and stretches them to their logical and chilling conclusions." That was probably true of trends that existed when the book was first published, in 1986. But even though following 2012's sociopolitical power trends to their extremities of praxis would probably land us in a very different world than the Republic of Gilead, where the narrator's story takes place, the book's warning is still germane when considering questions of prejudice and power imbalance.

Atwood's inscription includes a quote from Jonathan Swift's satirical essay A Modest Proposal, in which Swift recommends that to alleviate the pains of population growth and food scarcity, the Irish should eat their own children. The choice of this quote gives readers a hint regarding the wicked humor with which Atwood is about to address her subject. And indeed, she is funny in the darkest of ways, especially in the invented terminology of the Republic of Gilead (a government-sponsored fatal beating of a prisoner by a group of citizens, for instance, takes the euphemism "Particicution"). But she's also terrifying. Her tale (or rather, her handmaid's tale) suggests that all it takes to place a relatively stable society into the hands of dangerous radicals is the ignorant apathy and fearful conformity of the rest of the people.
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