Jenny Maloney's Reviews > The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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's review
May 03, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, dystopian-futures, atwood, feminist, literary, moral-dilemmas, sex

** spoiler alert ** The opening scene takes place in a high school gym, and despite the drastically altered context of the high school gym, it still managed to slow me down initially. Bad memories.
If your memories of a high school gym are as disquieting as mine, then you too should get the gist of The Handmaid's Tale: it's disquieting.

The most disquieting images in the story, hands down, and the ones that I think encapsulate the themes most vividly, were "The Ceremony" - in which the Commander, the Wife, and the Handmaid engage in procreative activity that is anything but sexy - and "The Birth." Throughout the story, the role of women is the centerpiece. When Atwood places images that emphasize two women are necessary to accomplish the role of one, and that they have to accomplish it together, while both are dehumanized at the same time, well, it leaves a very icky sensation.

Offred, the Handmaid dressed in red, is the central figure of the story. It's through her eyes that we observe this world - and it should be emphasized that she is an observer. There are only a couple moments of 'rebellion' with her character, though those are enough to put her in the line of fire; mostly she serves as a filter for the reader. (And an unreliable one at that.) I didn't take huge issue with her passivity, it suited her character and it suited the telling of the story - giving the reader just enough knowledge to be curious for a bit more, but not enough to lose the mystery/suspense.

Place for the Stolen
Under Ground Writing Project
As a reader, I'm very willing to suspend disbelief and let the author take me on a ride. However, there was one issue that I couldn't get past because it's part of the real world and it seems a giant portion of this made-up Gilead:


Can I buy that they want to be in charge? Yes. Can I buy that they would like their very own genetic offspring? Yes. Can I buy that they'd use Biblical precedent to buy themselves some mistresses/'surrogates' who may provide that offspring? Yes.

However, if this world is so devastated by environmental factors that make procreation so difficult - why on earth treat the women who have already proven their potential as procreators as second-class citizens? It seems that they should be revered. It seems that they should be the Wives. It just seems the logical move. Atwood does address this - dominion over the household (including the Handmaids) was what the Wives negotiated for...but, um, the women lost this move. Once this stuff is in's easy enough to adjust the semantics. Wouldn't these smart men who had already routed America be more than capable of controlling the procreational rules?

Like I said, I was able to suspend my disbelief in more than one arena, but this one kept niggling at me.
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Quotes Jenny Liked

Margaret Atwood
“Don't let the bastards grind you down.”
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

Reading Progress

May 3, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
August 1, 2011 – Finished Reading
August 11, 2011 –
0.0% "I'm actually finished, but am gathering my thoughts...."
August 13, 2011 – Shelved as: 2011
August 13, 2011 – Shelved as: dystopian-futures
August 13, 2011 – Shelved as: atwood
August 13, 2011 – Shelved as: feminist
August 13, 2011 – Shelved as: literary
August 13, 2011 – Shelved as: moral-dilemmas
August 13, 2011 – Shelved as: sex

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