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Previous Reads: Group Reads > The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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message 1: by Louise, Group Founder (new)

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Our group read for February is The Handmaid's Taleby Margaret Atwood.


About the Book (wikipedia)
The Handmaid's Tale (1985) is a work of speculative fiction by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government, the dystopian novel explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency. The novel's title echoes the component parts of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, which comprises a series of connected stories ("The Merchant's Tale", "The Parson's Tale", etc.).
The Handmaid's Tale won the 1985 Governor General's Award and the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987; it was also nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award, the 1986 Booker Prize, and the 1987 Prometheus Award. It has been adapted for the cinema, radio, opera, and stage. The Handmaid's Tale has never gone out of print since its first publication in 1985.


Blurb (Waterston's)
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs. Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful evocation of twenty-first century America gives full rein to Margaret Atwood's devastating irony, wit and astute perception.


Author (wikipedia)
Margaret Atwood (born November 18, 1939) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, winning once, and has been a finalist for the Governor General's Award several times, winning twice. In 2001, she was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame. She is also a founder of the Writers' Trust of Canada, a non-profit literary organization that seeks to encourage Canada's writing community.

Margaret Atwood also seems to be a relatively popular author within this group and we already have a thread here about her to discuss and recommend her work!

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I read this book only a couple of years ago, so I probably won't be reading along this month, but I look forward to reading and joining the discussion.


message 2: by Subarna (new)

Subarna Looking forward to reading this.


message 3: by Liesl (new)

Liesl | 440 comments Hi all,

I also read this a few years ago so I won´t read it again but, being new to the group, I am looking to seeing how the monthly discussion works and participating where I can.


message 4: by Amandeep (new)

Amandeep | 5 comments Hi everyone,

I have read this book recently, and I'm still spell-bound by Atwood's wit and cynicism.This book has made me question the present political and social relations around the world. There's an increasing intolerant attitude towards diversity of gender, religion and ethnicity.
Aren't we experiencing a lull which lingers before the storm? What if relations around the world keep deteriorating at the present pace? Are we facing a pre-Gileadean anticipation anxiety,as Offred does in the novel?
These are just a few conjectural questions.
But this book has left me with numerous more.

Enjoy reading it,guys!
Looking forward to an inspirational discussion.

Peace :)


message 5: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine | 1 comments This was given to me as a Christmas present so can't wait to read it. I've read Oryx and Crake and I'm currently reading The Year of the Flood and I'm just in love with Atwood's work!


message 6: by Robin P (new)

Robin P I read an article referencing signs at the march last weekend saying "Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again " It's been clear to me for some time that while people may have divergent views on abortion, the refusal to accept sex education, birth control, equal pay, family leave, and other policies that would actually reduce the number of abortions, shows that the real goal of many people is actually to restrict women's independence and sexuality. When Atwood wrote this book, she stated that everything in it was actually happening somewhere in the world at that time, though not all in the same place.

An interesting book to pair with this one is The Gate to Women's Country


message 7: by Kru (new)

Kru (krubha) | 7 comments Hi!

I am new to this group. This book happens to be my Christmas gift and my first Atwood as well. Would love to start it soon and looking forward to a great discussion here :)


message 8: by Chita (new)

Chita | 2 comments Hi! I'm new here too! I nominated The Handmaid's Tale and was excited when it was chosen! I read Atwood's The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace, they were all so good! So I can't wait to read and discuss this book here.


message 9: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie I read it years ago (maybe decades ;) but my library bookclub will be discussing it later this month, so I will be skimming it at least again and look forward to the discussion.


message 10: by N.P. (new)

N.P. Ryan (npryan) The greatest power I find in this work is the amount of female readers I've met who've recoiled from it, to the point of not being able to finish. There has always been a mixture between the horror of the 'woman's place' reinforced versus the ridiculous and outlandish nature of what is suggested, with the latter always the stronger opinion; it says, never - never could this happen here; so speaking volumes about the reader's perception of themselves and their immediate position when placed against the realities of the world and the very real difficulties and oppression faced by numerous women even in the immediate society.


message 11: by Karin (new)

Karin This is one of only two books by Atwood that I liked. I don't plan to re-read it, but remember enough to participate despite the years as it made quite an impact for various reasons. I would have garnered 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4, from me had I been rating books back then.


message 12: by Anita (new)

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 753 comments Mod
This book does go around certain reading circles a lot, but I think it's worth it as I seem to get a little more out of it every time I read it. I will try to read it again, but it seems to be very popular right now and there is a long wait list at my library. Certainly, the commercials for the show are getting me worked up as well and I look forward to watching it!


message 13: by El (new)

El | 123 comments Oh, man, the series looks intense. I may have to get Hulu just to be able to watch it.


message 14: by i r e n e (new)

i r e n e (irene_romance) | 32 comments I'm looking forward to reading this classic this week - I've only read The Blind Assassin from Atwood and a couple of her poems in school about the Canadian wilderness. Also, the timing could not be more perfect. I'm excited to see Elizabeth Moss in the role!


message 15: by Sophie (new)

Sophie | 135 comments I just finished The Handmaid's Tale also. I typically do not read dystopian or science fiction but read this because it was a pick for February. I loved it. It turned out to be one of those books that stayed on my mind long after I finished it.


message 16: by Robin P (new)

Robin P There is an upcoming TV version of this book, 10 episodes on Hulu this spring.


message 17: by Haley (new)

Haley Addie I just finished reading The Handmaid's Tale.. Wow, just wow.. I'm speechless.. I just can't imagine.


message 18: by Claudia (new)

Claudia Beckwith Ms. Atwood's chilling tale of a dystopian society seemed so plausible when I first read it and when I recently re-read it. The author spins the story so well that it will stay with you for a very long time.
The movie adaptation with Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, Aidan Quinn, and Natasha Richardson is equally as haunting. Looking forward to seeing the newer Hulu version.


message 19: by Margeaux (last edited Feb 09, 2017 07:48PM) (new)

Margeaux | 2 comments Hi! This is the first book I have read as part of this group. I loved the storytelling style: seemingly objective at some points, yet broken by passionate revelations. It's an enjoyable read, but you can't ignore Atwood's subtle (or not-so-subtle) warnings.


message 20: by Anita (new)

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 753 comments Mod
When I first read this book, I dismissed the back story as less important, but now I find it is what intrigues me the most. Why did people stop having babies? And I take much greater notice now of how abortion doctors are criminalized and hunted out. I really wish she would write more to this story! I'm dying to know what comes next and am pining for a happy ending. But I understand that this is part of what makes this story so impressive. Who knows if this dystopia worsens or continues? It forces us to think about the possibilities on our own.


message 21: by Susan (new)

Susan | 4 comments Finished this book much faster than expected. Intriguing, fascinating, feel like I should read it again (which I probably won't, too many books on the to-read list). I definitely stays with you. Interesting to read in the comments that there is a movie and series!
This sentence "Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some." got to me, given the current political situation.


message 22: by Karin (new)

Karin El wrote: "Oh, man, the series looks intense. I may have to get Hulu just to be able to watch it."

Well, the book is intense, so that makes sense :). I'll be interested to see what you think of the series, which I have never seen.


message 23: by MeMa (new)

MeMa Perez | 10 comments "Fraternize means to behave like a brother. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororize, it would have to be, he said. From the Latin."

No more fraternizing. I prefer sororizing with my soul sisters of the page! :)


message 24: by GooeyGoobert (new)

GooeyGoobert | 3 comments This book has always been at the back of my mind, waiting to be read. Glad, I'm finally taking the initiative and can't wait to see what it's all about.


message 25: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 576 comments I'm about 100 pages into it. It paints a horrifying picture.


message 26: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 576 comments I finished it a few days ago. It really is intense.
I thought it was brilliant the way Atwood reveals the full extent of the horrors of Gilead bit by bit--as if the stranglehold happened gradually before people were fully aware of what was happening. It certainly gives one pause.

My review
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 27: by Maja (new)

Maja | 4 comments I'm only about 50 pages in, but, wow! Women treated as nothing but birth-machines - why does that sound familiar? Right, because in many countries, women are still viewed like that. As a pro-choice feminist, I can't explain just how angry this makes me, and I truly hope with all my heart that we will be able to change that, and this terrifying dystopia never becomes a reality. I also hope the protagonist will be able to escape it and maybe even change her world for the better?


message 28: by Karin (new)

Karin I had very mixed feelings about this book, but am waiting until more people finish!


message 29: by Clizia (new)

Clizia Conti | 11 comments It was an extremely difficult novel to read, it left me so angry and bitter. It is a feeling I often get after reading M. Atwood's dystopian novels because she is brilliant in underlining the connection between our world and its dynamics and the horrible consequence that could lead to.


message 30: by MeMa (new)

MeMa Perez | 10 comments Pg 200 and I just can't keep still. It is horrifying and hauntingly reminiscent of how swift movements can come..."A Few Small Nips" like Frida Kahlo's painting. Complacency and watching idly while going gentle in that good night is exactly what this novel is speaking of. But I wonder just how I would react if met with violence when I don't wish to fight or met with brutality while I am being civilly disobedient? Would I take arms? Or, would I use cunning and infiltration? Can't wait to see how it ends...


message 31: by Maja (new)

Maja | 4 comments I, too, was left angry and shook by this novel! And now I can't stop thinking about what I would do if I was in that situation - would I fight back? Or would I cowardly suffer in silence? I really don't know and it scares me!
My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 32: by Liesl (new)

Liesl | 440 comments Anita wrote: "When I first read this book, I dismissed the back story as less important, but now I find it is what intrigues me the most. Why did people stop having babies? And I take much greater notice now of ..."

Hi Anita,

Sorry it has taken me a while to comment. My understanding is that the last chapter is written in different narrative form (Third person) to distinguish it from the rest of the work. That chapter takes place at a Symposium in a future period where they are discussing/analysing Offred´s society. The conclusion is that this prior society failed and no longer exists.

The happy ending is that Offred is helped to escape this dreadful society. This offers us hope that in times such as this the humanity of people unites them against such oppression, and ultimately succeeds in bringing them down.


message 33: by Akiva (new)

Akiva (wolbster) It's been a few years since I read Handmaid's Tale, but I have no desire to revisit it. It's come up a few times in my social circles, people talking about wanting to read it for the first time, and I usually tell them I don't recommend it unless they have a hankering to read (tw rape) (view spoiler). I'm queer and I really identified with that character, and like every character in the book she was an illustrative throw-away (Offred not really excepted, for all that she's the only one who gets to live).

I read Native Tongue shortly afterward and I was really struck by how both authors took a similar premise (women suddenly lose all legal rights) and turned it into two very different books. Handmaid's Tale is just misery porn to me, exploration of how bad it can get, and Native Tongue is about creative resistance. It's a little second-wave, but there's still a lot to like.


message 34: by Anita (new)

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 753 comments Mod
Liesl, thank you so much for pointing that out. I don't remember that or somehow I missed it. I think I will finally just buy a copy of the book since it has come up in 3 separate clubs and I've been on hold at the library for too long. I thought I could have discussions based on my memory of it, but I think it deserves a reread.


message 35: by i r e n e (new)

i r e n e (irene_romance) | 32 comments Levi Amichai wrote: "It's been a few years since I read Handmaid's Tale, but I have no desire to revisit it. It's come up a few times in my social circles, people talking about wanting to read it for the first time, an..."

Hi Levi: Not sure if this is what you mean by misery porn but I definitely have that feeling with certain books where I feel very disturbed without any insights. I felt this way with The Stepford Wives and Valley of the Dolls, coincidentally!


message 36: by i r e n e (new)

i r e n e (irene_romance) | 32 comments Just finished The Handmaid's Tale and I am so glad I did! Full disclaimer: did not enjoy the narrator at all but the plot pulls you in. For me, I became genuinely interested when the narrator begins to interact with the Commander in his office, and it became clear that the narrator was searching for her past - Luke, Moira, her baby. This is about 100 pages in.

For me, I am still curious as to what happens to Moira, Luke, and of course the narrator herself. If anyone has read a couple of articles on it, love the share.

Full review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 37: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 576 comments I read this a couple of weeks ago and posted my review on goodreads.https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Since then, I’ve been tossing around some thoughts.

I’m wondering why the Aunts are so complicit in the oppression of their younger sisters. One can argue they have no choice. Failure to comply can mean death. But it seems to me there is more going on than that.

The Aunts are angry, full of bitterness and bile, engage in victim-blaming, name-calling, spying, etc. They are venting their anger and frustration at the Handmaids instead of at the oppressors and relish keeping them under control with a sort of feverish pitch.

The only theory I can come up with is the following: In the long ago past, post menopausal women were treated with respect. They were considered repositories of wisdom and knowledge. They were the tribal elders. Their wrinkled skin and sagging breasts were considered badges of honor. But older women have since been marginalized, shoved aside in a culture that worships all things young, firm, and perky. The nip and tuck and stretch and lift business has become a billion dollar industry catering to those who try to turn back time.

Maybe these Aunts are venting their anger at a culture that ceased to value their contribution. Maybe they blame younger women for their status. Maybe Atwood is suggesting if we give a modicum of power to group that has previously been marginalized/ignored, the members of that group will act out their pent up anger by oppressing those beneath them in the totem pole—in this case, the Handmaids. And maybe Atwood is cautioning us to be generous in power-sharing to avoid reaching such a frenzied pitch of hostility.

Any thoughts?


message 38: by Nell (new)

Nell Beaudry (lightfoxing) I definitely think that there's something to that theory. It's made clear that the no longer "viable" women were often those sent to the colonies, unless they chose to be Aunts. Faced with that choice, I think I too would probably harbor anger and resentment. I imagine it's certainly at least part of the underlying motivation, even if it isn't necessarily a thought process they're aware of.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

I like this theory. Brings another new level to the book and I'll probably read it a little differently next time. I had simply thought that unfortunately in the world, everywhere that women are oppressed, some women actively assist in that oppression. My take is that this was the sort of women the aunts were. It is unfortunate that some inequality and oppression is as a direct result of, or fully supported by our own gender.

This was the second time I had read this book and probably won't be the last. Each time I am haunted for a while after. I have found this with the other Margaret Atwood novels I've read. I love books like this which are so thought provoking and have an effect on you long after closing the last page.


message 40: by i r e n e (new)

i r e n e (irene_romance) | 32 comments The Aunts are v interesting because they hold power and they are not child-bearing machines, virtuous status symbols or being shipped off to the colonies. They are clearly intelligent as teachers of future handmaids, and we see they can write and smoke. These liberties show they are exceptions to the rule, and their positions were respected and regarded by those in power.

I remember that intense group scene where Janine blamed herself for being raped, and everyone piled on - but Serena Joy and the Wives were the ones I felt hostile to the Handmaids in their microaggressions. I felt the Aunts wanted the Handmaids, their pupils, to be happily brainwashed into accepting their lot in life.

Aunt Lydia is a little bit like Offred near the end of her tale - where she just doesn't care about rebelling or escaping. Similarly, Aunt Lydia was able to find some reason to keep existing and that's all she cared about. In some responses, Aunt Lydia echoed Serena Joy in some scenes where it seems she earnestly believes in the Gilead doctrine she is espousing. At other times, it seems it is practically, the best position, she can expect to have.


message 41: by Nicole (new)

Nicole I read this book a few years ago, so I wasn't going to read it again this year. But looking through some of the comments, it seems I have forgotten about some important aspects of the book-- maybe I should give it a reread soon!


message 42: by El (new)

El | 123 comments Levi Amichai wrote: "It's come up a few times in my social circles, people talking about wanting to read it for the first time, and I usually tell them I don't recommend it unless they have a hankering to read (tw rape) (view spoiler). I'm queer and I really identified with that character, and like every character in the book she was an illustrative throw-away (Offred not really excepted, for all that she's the only one who gets to live)."

Hi Levi,
Sorry to comment on this over a month after you posted it (hope you're still around here), but I'm interested in your comment.

I've read The Handmaid's Tale a few times, and that part is definitely haunting and upsetting, but I read it as Atwood's intention - that she meant for it to be unsettling, to wake her readers up. What may be seen as a throw-away is actually meant to be a wake up call, that society may view the character as a throw-away - either the society she writes in the book, or a greater statement about how our own society tends to view some people/women/queer women as throw-aways. I guess what I'm trying to say is I felt it was more a social statement rather than just something Atwood was tossing in. I didn't feel it was gratuitous, rather that she was trying to make a point.

But now your comment has also made me want to re-read it yet again with your thoughts in the forefront of my mind to see if I read that part, specifically, differently. So thank you for your perspective. I love when someone gives me something different to think about/challenges my original thoughts.


message 43: by Liesl (new)

Liesl | 440 comments Tamara wrote: "I read this a couple of weeks ago and posted my review on goodreads.https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Since then, I’ve been tossing around some thoughts.

I’m wondering why the Aunt..."


From some of the reading I did years ago, Atwood based the role of the Aunts on a ruling technique from Imperialism. For example, when the British ruled a nation they would grant limited power to a small group from that nation so that they would control the rest of the inhabitants. So basically here, the men have granted some power to the Aunts which they use against other females. This is a group of women who would essentially be discarded in this system as they no longer have any reproductive value and were likely more skilled than the women who become Marthas. I guess they become corrupted by the small perks of the power they have.

I also felt that the segregation of women into subgroups aided the men in controlling them. It pits women against each other and you see that in the way that women from each group do not trust each other. There is that saying ¨United we stand. Divided we fall¨ which seems very relevant here.


message 44: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 576 comments Liesl wrote: "From some of the reading I did years ago, Atwood based the role of the Aunts on a ruling technique from Imperialism. For example, when the British ruled a nation they would grant limited power to a small group from that nation so that they would control the rest of the inhabitants. ."

That's very true. George Orwell who served in the Imperial Indian Police in Burma wrote about this in some of his essays. It's interesting how Atwood makes use of techniques that were already in existence.
Also, your comment about pitting women against each other reminded me of Disneyfied fairy tales. In Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, for example, it is the older women who are pitted against the younger ones, primarily because they envy their youth and good looks.


message 45: by Karin (new)

Karin Liesl wrote: "From some of the reading I did years ago, Atwood based the role of the Aunts on a ruling technique from Imperialism. For example, when the British ruled a nation they would grant limited power to a small group from that nation so that they would control the rest of the inhabitants. So basically here, the men have granted some power to the Aunts which they use against other females. This is a group of women who would essentially be discarded in this system as they no longer have any reproductive value and were likely more skilled than the women who become Marthas. I guess they become corrupted by the small perks of the power they have."

That technique reminds me of the latter part of Simon Legree, in Uncle Tom's Cabin. He had two slaves he used to drive the other slaves and made sure that they also hated each other. That's a little more extreme, but it's similar.


message 46: by MeMa (new)

MeMa Perez | 10 comments My reading of the Aunts behavior was more nefarious. It is one thing to exercise power over the Handmaids but it is another to threaten life. It takes a certain level of cruelty and hate to illustrate Gilead's doctrine for female subservience by showing snuff-films, amputation, brutality, and rape of women to brainwash. These are fear tactics to force compliance through imagery. And A Clockwork Orange approach to present the worst of lustful behavior does not account for free will.


message 47: by Karin (last edited Mar 15, 2017 08:07AM) (new)

Karin MeMa wrote: "My reading of the Aunts behavior was more nefarious. It is one thing to exercise power over the Handmaids but it is another to threaten life. It takes a certain level of cruelty and hate to illustr..."

Just like those two slaves of Simon Legree's. I thought Beecher Stowe very astute in including that part about how sometimes slaves make the most brutal overseers of all.


message 48: by MeMa (new)

MeMa Perez | 10 comments @Karin: Yes. It's the same throughtout history. But that is what Atwood's call-to-arms is about. Truthfully, is survival better knowing that you are contributing to the problem or would you rather just refuse and resist and lose your life in the process? What type of woman are you? So easy to say what one would do in any given situation...harder to execute.


message 49: by Karin (new)

Karin MeMa wrote: "@Karin: Yes. It's the same throughtout history. But that is what Atwood's call-to-arms is about. Truthfully, is survival better knowing that you are contributing to the problem or would you rather ..."

Right, but it's nearly impossible to know what you'd do until you're in the situation. Many studies have been done about this, and it's shocking to see how most people bend to things. Both The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference and Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently touch a bit on this response to pressure/duty/environment. We all like to think we'd resist the Simon Legrees of this world as well as Uncle Tom did, but most of us aren't that strong. I don't know what I'd to, to be honest, but like to think I'd be like Uncle Tom and resist to the end.


message 50: by MeMa (new)

MeMa Perez | 10 comments @Karin THANK YOU SO MUCH for these references. I find myself always on the fence. Resistance is something that I believe can be honed like any skill, but it takes bravery since it will appear at first that you are alone. But the March on Washington and other solidarity marches represent the hope that people are waking up to their own power and that inspires me everyday to continue to try harder.


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