Clif Hostetler's Reviews > The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian future novel that speculates on what life would be like if extreme Christian fundamentalists achieved the theocracy for which they pray. In this story a portion of what used to be the USA is now a theocracy named Republic of Gilead governed by a perverse version of laws and codes from the Old Testament. Individuals are segregated and subject to strict social control by sex, occupation, and caste. An important part of this new social order is the subjugation of women in a multi-tiered hierarchy in which men are in positions of power and authority.

The story’s narration is in the first person voice of a “handmaid” placed in the home of “the Commander” and his wife for the purpose of bearing a child for them. Her narrative includes recollections of the past from which we learn about the recent overthrow of the US government and the imposition of the new order. We also learn of harsh punishment (i.e. public executions) for relatively minor indiscretions—often sexual—while such illicit behavior continues to be widely practiced in secret. The suspense of wondering who can be trusted to keep secrets permeates the plot of the book.

At the end of the book are “Historical Notes” in which the reader learns that the previous story is a partial transcript of the proceedings of an academic conference taking place in the year 2195. The conference is focused on Gileadean Studies of history that occurred approximately 200 years earlier. The story’s narration was taken from archeological findings consisting of cassette tapes found in an abandoned locker.

It’s interesting to note that the book was published in 1985 and inspired by political and religious trends of that time. Nothing has happened since to make the book’s message less ominous. This book inspired the creation of a TV series, and a sequel book was published just this year. Assuming the sequel reflects more recent political happenings and advances in I.T., it has the potential of being truly frightening.
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Reading Progress

September 30, 2019 – Started Reading
October 1, 2019 – Shelved
October 4, 2019 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Richard (last edited Oct 10, 2019 10:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Richard Clif wrote: “…Nothing has happened since to make the book’s message less ominous.”

Well — I think the mere fact that over forty years have passed without such an event makes it a bit less ominous, especially since we saw the collapse of one ideologically-driven state, and the failure of another (Iran) in its attempt at a theocracy.

The latter is actually an interesting example. I read The Handmaid’s Tale way back when, but it popped quickly to mind when I read Reading Lolita in Tehran. That’s a memoir, not fiction, so it isn’t directly comparable, but in it we see the actual lived lives of women enduring a religious takeover of society, in a way that makes Handmaid’s Tale seem astonishingly simplistic. It also provokes us to realize that even the oppressive gaze of the Soviet or East German totalitarian states, people weren’t as isolated as in Atwood’s book.

I think a paired reading of Handmaid’s Tale and Reading Lolita could be a provocative win for a book group.

[Oh… «theogony»? Perhaps theocracy?]


Clif Hostetler Thanks for your comment.
Well, it appears that I used "theogony" incorrectly. I thought I had an application for the word when I noticed it was in the dictionary—must have forgotten to check it's meaning (study of the origin of the Gods).


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