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MAY/JUNE The Handmaid's Tale > Feminist Story

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message 1: by Jordyn (new)

Jordyn (jkshawhan) | 7 comments I read a new edition of this book with an introduction from the author. In the intro, Margaret Atwood addressed whether or not this was a feminist story. Atwood said that you could consider this a feminist novel if by "feminist," you mean telling a story about women who are human beings and telling the story from the point of view of a woman. She addresses that the mass rape of women and children are featured in every mass genocide and that "the control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on the planet."

This story takes on many feminist issues (abortion, rape, right to raise children, equality or lack of equality with men, etc.), but in the end, we are left with wondering what this all led to. From the closing section, you can see there was eventually a revolt, but it's interesting that Offred seems ashamed by her story. Ashamed to have slept with Nick and ashamed she just continued on, trying to follow most, if not all, the rules. She had the opportunity to join a group of women trying to fight back, but she didn't not to until she didn't have a choice. Then she did make the recordings, as a way to fight back. We don't know if she did more, but she at least made the recordings. This probably goes along with Atwood's interpretation of her book in her intro, which is that she showed women as human beings. Some took this as an opportunity to gain power over other women (the Aunts), some tried to fight back (Moira and the original Ofglen), and some were just trying to navigate and survive (Offred.)

Also, the women did not all band together like men of power did in the beginning. This change was caused by men of power who came together and decided they wanted control of women again, that they wanted to set rules and sometimes not even follow their own rules. The Aunts always said that the next generation of women would work together, but the Wives certainly were not working with the Handmaids to make their lives easier (except sometimes helping them get pregnant so the Wives could have babies. This was more for the Wives than the Handmaids.)

Eventually there was a revolution. Does anyone here have an idea of how this could've gone down, or any other thoughts on this matter?


message 2: by Rana (new)

Rana Jazar | 4 comments Hi Jordyn. First off, I love your point about Offred feeling ashamed of her own story and how it reflects what she sees as personality flaws ad weaknesses. I think this comes up in a lot of stories, as female characters can be difficult to write believably when the author bases them upon specific virtues (e.g. being particularly strong or submissive), as opposed to writing them as complex human beings with moments of strength, weakness, and passivity. I feel that is something that Atwood does fairly well in most of her books. I've noticed this comes up even in real life, with a lot of women chastising themselves for being weak because they see and read about characters who are persistently strong or graceful that they can't live up to. In a sense, they are hard on themselves simply for being human.

To your question about how the revolution takes place, unfortunately I think it could have only taken place after the regime had survived long enough to do an almost irreparable amount of damage. If you look at most regimes or empires (Rome, for example), they were toppled only when they had been in place for so many years that they felt they had created enough social norms to relax their policies that kept their stronghold over the populations they conquered, allowing them to become more corrupt from within and fight among each other for power and control. It's more likely that Gilead went out with a fizzle instead of a bang, becoming weaker globally as well as nationally over time; I imagine that's when the oppressed populations saw their chance and toppled the state, starting with the small rebellions and eventually becoming a full on revolutionary force.

I'd like to know what your thoughts are on that as well, as I only have a few notions about how the revolution could have possibly occurred.


message 3: by Jordyn (new)

Jordyn (jkshawhan) | 7 comments Hi Rana, I agree, Offred was probably comparing herself to her idealized version of Moira and her mother. In the book, Offred brought up a lot that she was not the daughter her mother, a real out-there fighting feminist, had wanted. In the book, it didn't sound to me like Offred was really upset that she couldn't live up to her mother's expectations, but maybe she was? And maybe that was why she was ashamed?

She was also probably ashamed about sleeping with Nick because she was married to Luke. On top of that, she was already scolded by Moira for being with Luke in the first place because he was married at the time. In her view, even though all her rights have been taken away, sometimes she might have thought of herself as a weaker woman than Moira and her mother, one who not only had stolen a married man but now was sleeping with someone else, whom she barely knew. Which is sad, because her situation is so extreme, and she has had everything taken away from her. I haven't read any of Atwood's other books though, so I can't compare them.

Offred's views of herself probably were made worse by the situation, where she was supposed to be pure, but wasn't. And she wasn't successfully getting pregnant, and had the fate of the Colonies looming over her.

Your estimation about the revolution makes sense. The only reason I thought it could've been earlier was because, in the last section, it mentioned that some Commanders around the same time as Offred were arrested for their behavior, but that doesn't mean that's when the revolution happened. If anything, that could've led to stricter rules for years before a revolution.


message 4: by Rana (new)

Rana Jazar | 4 comments Good point. It's interesting how her entire purpose is sexual, yet sex is also her greatest shame. I do understand that it is because sleeping with anyone outside of the purpose of reproduction is considered shameful, but there is an inherent hypocrisy to it, especially because it seems that Nick, with whom she has a secret affair, is the one to get her pregnant. Although in some ways, that's not so different from today - women are encouraged to be sexual, but only to the point that it serves a purpose, which may vary across countries and cultures.

And yes, they did mention there was a purge of Commanders after Offred's escape, but they also mention a "Middle Period" afterwards, suggesting the regime continues. Nonetheless, they don't provide a timeline, so there's no way of know how long the Early, Middle or Late periods would have lasted.


message 5: by Jordyn (new)

Jordyn (jkshawhan) | 7 comments It is hypocritical, which I think is the point. The scene where Janine is pregnant is a good example. This is where Offred imagines what it must've been like with the Wives around the pregnant Janine, giving her cookies, and then behind her back the Wive who would raise Janine's baby would call her a "slut," or something like that.

The best estimation for when their regime ended is by looking at history. I wonder of Atwood created a timeline in her head while she was writing the book? I have heard that some authors make up more about their worlds than they share in their books.


message 6: by Ross (new)

Ross | 1444 comments seems curious to think of it as anything but a feminist story. Though the absence of formal resistance, at least so far, still reading, could suggest it is a more generalized cautionary tail.


message 7: by Roger (new)

Roger Burt | 26 comments It seems beyond unlikely that we will ever reduce feminism to a simplistic concept--nor should we. The issues are complex, often ever so personal and evolving. This conversation is fascinating and enriching.


message 8: by Alana (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 66 comments There are certainly "feminist" (with whatever definition you want to use) elements to it, but I felt it was more about addressing the "common man (or person)," asking what YOU would do? We all enjoy the stories of Moiras and Ofglens and even of Nicks, but the boring, everyday person, just trying to go about their business and keep their head down? That's the "everyman" and we don't like those stories.... except that most of us ARE that story. How many of us really go out there and challenge the powers that be or the status quo? We all WANT to be Moira or Ofglen....but how many of us really ever make that leap?


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