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The Handmaid's Tale (The Handmaid's Tale, #1)
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Previous Monthly Reads > The Handmaid's Tale SPOILER THREAD

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Sara | 2357 comments Mod
This is the spoiler thread for our November read!

Emma Flanagan (emma89) I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this Sara.

Sara | 2357 comments Mod
I look forward to hearing yours as well Emma.

Emma Flanagan (emma89) Most of my thoughts are in my review. What struck me most was how plausible the events are. It seems totally possible that we could wake up tomorrow in a world similar to that in the book. The overthrowing of a government, the suspension of a constitution the withdrawal of people's rights seem so easy.

Emma Flanagan (emma89) I found two articles which people may find interesting and help generate discussion.

The first is an interview with Margaret Atwood:

The second is an article by Margaret Atwood on the Handmaids Tale:

Sara | 2357 comments Mod
I've been struggling a bit with how to comment on this book. I think it's so overwhelming and good that it's hard to come up with specifics.

I was struck by the same thing as Emma. I was also amazed at how beautiful Atwood's language is. The beauty of the language is in stark contrast to the ugliness of the situation. Since I listened to the audiobook (narrated by Claire Danes) this really came through for me more this time than upon previous readings. Atwood is also very economical with language and good at pacing. There was a bit in the middle that dragged a bit for me, but overall I thought it was very tightly constructed.

Was there a particular part of the book that horrified folks more than the others? For me it was when they're forced by the Aunts in the Red Center to testify/confess parts of their past lives. Jeanine describes being rapped at 14, and she's taunted and made to believe it's her fault.

What did folks think of the post script at the end?

Emma Flanagan (emma89) It is a book which takes a couple of days of your mind to process.

It only reading that article by Margret Atwood that's helped me put my finger on why it seem so plausible. It's not just that the events seem like something that could happen, it's they are events which have happened to some degree. They are entirely recognisable because we learnt about them in school.

It's hard to pin down one point in the book which was particularly horrific. The confessing of their histories was hard, but so was the scene where they kill that man who supposedly raped a handmaiden. I think some of the hardest scenes where those where she goes to the wall looking for her husband. That idea of not knowing what happened to the people you loved.

The postscript is interesting. Like the most of the book it's entirely recognisable. A bunch of academics sitting around discussing and reflecting on a period of history and how it occurred. The ending is ambiguous which fits with the book. Did she get away? Did she ever find her daughter? Part of me wants to believe she escaped but given the tone of the book I suspect that was not the case.

I think Donna's review raised an interesting idea about how we read and perceive the book. She read it when it was first published prior to having any children and now since having her son. I think it's going to be interesting to see how different members of the group react to the book based on their life stages.

Donna McCaul Thibodeau (celtic_donna) | 1143 comments I am particularly interested in seeing how the males in our group feel about this book. One of the parts that I found horrifying was when the Commander took her out to the social club and she saw the woman that she had hoped made it out, wearing an old Playboy bunny outfit.

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Louise | 82 comments I have finished this book. It was not the easiest read in so far as I had to almost cover my eyes for some bits...which lets face it, always makes reading difficult.

I found the atmosphere throughout the book incredibly tense. I almost felt Offred's overwhelming helpless quiet panic in relation to her daughter. I found the scene where the wife shows her the picture of her daughter unbearable.

The book was made into a film in 1990. I watched it on you tube. Robert Duvall plays the commander really well.

I suppose this type of a reality is possible to imagine beacause it has happened and is happening to various degress. Fundamentalist religious states that oppress woman and murder or torture diisenters. Ethnic cleansing. We don't have to look too far back in Irish history to get a whiff of all these basic principles of religious oppression.

so, yes. Not the easiest read ever. But lots of food for thought. I'm glad to have read it.

Marcia | 437 comments I'm really liking this book as well. As you said IanieB the dispassionate voice of the narrator is so fitting for this book. It really emphasises her feeling of hopelessness. I'm about 120 pages from the end and hoping to finish it this weekend.

Donna McCaul Thibodeau (celtic_donna) | 1143 comments As I said in my review, I read this book twenty five years ago, and have never forgotten it. This one tends to stick with you.

message 12: by Marcia (last edited Nov 14, 2014 02:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marcia | 437 comments I've found that with a few books I've read with this group...Stoner, Burial Rites and probably this one as well.

I probably would have got close to finishing it last night but I started watching old Doctor Who episodes with my son...

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

This must be the quietest discussion thread for a BOTM in a long while!

The book was every bit as thrilling as the first time I read it about 25 years ago. It wasn't too fantastical, which made it more believable and for me it almost became a cautionary tale of what could happen. Next I'll follow Emma's links to help give this more perspective.

message 14: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) It seems to be a hard book to discuss despite the fact everyone seems to be loving it.

Marcia | 437 comments Theresa, what does BOTM mean. I'm sorry I'm not familiar with all the acronyms flying around these days.

Hopefully I'll have more to say when I've finished it. Maybe the reason there is not much discussion is because most people agree with what is being said. I've found there is more discussion when something is said that some people don't agree with.

message 16: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) It stands for Book of the Month Marcia.

You're right, you tend to get debate when some people enjoyed it and some didn't

message 17: by Emma (last edited Nov 15, 2014 12:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) In order to help generate discussion I' thought I'd throw out a few questions for people to consider.

1. What do you think ends up happening to the narrator? Does she make it?

2. How would this book be different if it didn't include the "Historical Notes"? What does the final line mean to you?

3. Who is the worst off in this society? Is it better to know what's happening, even if you're powerless to change things, or to not even realize the sadness of your situation?

message 18: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) My responses are:

1. I would like to think so but I'm not optimistic. I don't think this is the kind of book where a character gets any form of a happy ending.

2. The obvious thing is without the historical notes the book would end with Offred fleeing and that would be it. They provide us with some context of what happened to her, maybe. I think the historical section also serves to remind us that not only could the events of the book happen but they have happened before to some extend.

I'm taking it that the final line the question refers to is not "Any questions?" because we are left with nothing but questions. I'm taking it to mean the final sentence of the speech: "As all historians know, the past is a great darkness, and filled with echoes. Voices may reach us from it; but what they say to us is imbued with the obscurity of the matrix out of which they come; and, try as we may, we cannot always decipher them precisely in the clearer light of our own day." Clearly it's commenting on the fact that while we can try to understand the past and how certain events happened, as our understanding shall only ever be based on snipers from accounts etc it shall always be difficult for us to fully comprehend, viewed as it it through the prism of our own values.

3. I don't think anyone is well off in the society. On the surface the handmaids seem certainly get the worst deal, but are the wives, who also have no freedom, any better off despite their higher position in the society. The reasons why things are terrible for each person may vary, but it all ends the same, none of them are on a good position, even the men though they may think they are.

On whether it's better to know what will happen or live in blissful ignorance, I'm not sure, I'll have to think some more on that.

message 19: by Serf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Serf My only issue with this book is from what I see, the women never seem to have tried to fight this happening. They just seem to accept their lot except for a few 'poorly attended demonstrations'. I would hope if it ever happened women of modern society would go down fighting.

message 20: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) I would agree Seraphina. Given the period it was written it seems odd. Not only are there no major public demonstrations, which I think is due to the fear people seemed to feel, but even privately they don't seem to kick up a fuss. Offred complains a bit about it to her husband, and she seems ab it annoyed about losing her job etc, but not as angry as you'd expect. I'd be livid in the same situation.

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

Not long after apartheid ended in South Africa I had a long conversation with a young black woman about what it what like growing up in such an oppressive society. She said that you just accepted it and made the best of it. She was a lively independent-thinking person and very intelligent yet had had no thoughts of rebellion. I had similar conversations in Russia. Now, I'm not suggesting that apartheid and communism is the same as Gilead but these are examples of how a state can control its citizens. Again, think of North Korea or Nazi Germany and how citizens can be controlled or incited into behaviour without much rebellion. I suspect that psychologists would have much to offer on our interpretation.

Marcia | 437 comments I have just finished this book and really liked it. It really makes you think about it.

I also thought there would have been more rebellion from women having their rights taken away from them. But the book doesn't give the whole context for what actually happened during this period. As Theresa pointed out governments have all sorts of ways to sending out and censoring information so that the general public remain calm which allows these sorts of things to creep in. And then before you know it you're caught.

Another thing from what I've read about dictatorships you just don't know who to trust so communication breaks down. People report people for the smallest thing if they think they will receive a reward such as protection of their family.

As far as a happy ending for this book......... it would be nice to think she escaped the regime but it is so up in the air. I really don't know what I think about that.

I really liked the historical notes because they added context to the narrators words. I'm glad this information was not included in the main text as it would have really taken away from the dispassionate voice. I also liked them because they give hope that she may have escaped. But even if she had, after an experience like that she may not have had a very happy life.

I agree with what Emma said about the last line of the historical notes. I think when we look back at what happened back in history we can only see it through our own experiences and what we know ourselves. Our judgments are coloured by our own experiences. Things that would be inconceivable for us were common place for people along way back in history. I think it's all about the context.

I think all people in a society would be unhappy. There is always someone envious of what they think you have so they are willing to do awful things if they think it will make their life better.

We are so lucky to live in a society that has free thinking.

message 23: by Serf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Serf I was also a bit saddened by the lack of compassion amongst the women towards each other. There was no solidarity, it was every one for themselves

message 24: by Marcia (last edited Nov 15, 2014 08:55PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marcia | 437 comments I didn't really like the Commander either. He used the handmaids for his own gain. He may have been lonely so he saw this as a way of combating that.

The lack of solidarity between the women I think was caused by them being afraid of being reported. The not knowing which side they were on. In that situation it's everyone for themselves. It is a very lonely existence though.

message 25: by Louise (new) - added it

Louise | 82 comments I agree. The commander was just enjoying another aspect of life on his terms.

Offered was an aspect.

Cathleen | 2409 comments I've just finished, and although I'm glad to have read it, I found it a difficult read. Not, obviously, because of the writing--but because of the very bleakness of the novel and the chilling thought that as "dystopican" as this novel is, it isn't so very far removed from what has happened in the world. I didn't think Offred escaped at the end; I saw no reason to hope that she'd gotten away to Canada or England, as the historical notes suggested she might have.

Kevin I can finally participate in this thread! I have a few nuggets of thought.

Am I the only one who found the Historical Notes to be quite haunting. The people present are laughing and joking, whilst a lot of it is filled with silly details about fishing trips etc. To me it is further dehumanising Offred and the people imprisoned in Gilead. It is depressingly casual.

I have a question, what were your thoughts on the tourists we see near the beginning. They ask Offred, "Are you happy?". It looks like the rest of the world is totally aware of what is going on but no explanation is provided as to why no aid was provided for these men and women.

With regard to the underground resistance, it is hard for me not to compare it with that seen in Orwell's 1984. That a resistance is created in order to root out those who wish to fight. One of the more depression concepts I have ever come across in my life that makes you questions almost everything! Do you think the resistance even existed in this book? The only read evidence for it is in the information Offglen provides, but even that could have been provided by the upper tiers of power. Active war against this society is talked about but is distant, so it is difficult to nail down the existence of this underground group.

Cathleen | 2409 comments Kevin wrote: "I can finally participate in this thread! I have a few nuggets of thought.

Am I the only one who found the Historical Notes to be quite haunting. The people present are laughing and joking, whilst..."

Kevin, I found this book even more depressing than 1984. Both were brilliant reads, and I'm glad I read both--but this one seemed even more dehumanizing than 1984. I couldn't find any human bonds--maybe Offred and Moira, but even that seemed tenuous near the end. At least in 1984, Winston and Julia loved each other. At the end of this book, I couldn't help but think of the betrayal scene in 1984--when the older "kindly" landlord turns out to be either a representative of O'Brien (or O'Brien himself?). I definitely need something chipper to read now!

Kevin Thats for sure Cathleen! Something bright and cheerful with unicorns, rainbows and fairies in order to combat the dark world of Gilead. It's soon to be Monday as well. It's going to be tough going until I shake off this book hangover.

message 30: by Serf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Serf The tourist part kind of reminded me of people being guided through north Korea. Shown glimpses but only what they want you to see. I think if I hadn't read the orphanmasters son prior to reading this I would possibly have given this a higher rating.
I was slightly disappointed with the historical
Notes as I was expecting some questions to be answered. It just showed me how history books are just the authors version of events.

message 31: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) I've never been to a history conference but the conferences I have been to speakers often try crack a few jokes etc and you can be sure that's universal across conferences irrespective of study area. The mood of the notes therefore didn't strike me as odd, it fits with what is occurring. When you think about it it seems somewhat callous but I suppose they have no emotional attachment to it, they just study it. We've all studied terrible events in history and while we may think how terrible they were I doubt we sat there like we were at a funeral.

The tourists are odd but then as humans we have a morbid fascination with seeing such things. I don't think their presence though necessarily implies counties aren't trying to help. There are references to a war along the border. We are never given the details but it is possible that this is against a another country. And remember everything in the book is based upon events which have happened in our history. Countries historically tend to be slow to interfere in how another country is run unless the country crosses a line like invading another country or out benefits another country to interfere.

Interesting thought on the resistance. It is very shadowy and we never know that much about it so maybe it is a front to flush people out.

Kevin I suppose you are right about the historical notes being a realistic representation, although I still find it callous. It is set roughly 200 years after the events of Offred, in another 130 years will people jest when discussing the Holocaust? I guess it is only natural that they lose any ties felt with it.

I have that book on my shelf as well Seraphina but I think I need to watch some Peppa Pig with my niece to cheer me up first :)

Marcia | 437 comments I think i read somewhere in the book about history being tainted by our own experiences. When they are written down from historic documents we tend to write it from our point of view and what we know. I read that some where.

I liked this one better than 1984 and didn't find it as depressing. It was still bleak.

I had initially forgotten about the tourists and remember thinking of course the people living in the situation are going to say they are happy because someone might hear them say something against the government putting them in danger. For me with the tourists I didn't think why isn't anyone trying to help because thought of North Korea. I think it would be very difficult for people to infiltrate a county like that. Every one is watching everyone. I would think people would be rewarded for reporting people with things they covert. It's a really sad cruel way of governing, setting the people against each other. I think that's what most of those sorts of regimes do. Russia-Stalin, China-Moa, Pol pot regime in Cambodia to name a few.

It's really sad.

message 34: by Kevin (last edited Dec 02, 2014 03:36PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kevin I think Atwood was making a statement that society has moved on but has portrayed it in a negative fashion on purpose. Although it is undoubtedly true that we are so numb to all the travesties being committed in Syria etc. that we no longer care I think when dealing with our own history if anything we won't let it go! I might be wrong but I think the academics were English or at least based in England? So that would fit with them not caring for other peoples' history.

Although if we were to juxtapose Anne Frank's diary with Offred's tapes, would we feel different? They are almost identical cases really. I definitely would consider Frank's story a sad one and definitely not laughable. It is a human story.

I will forever fail to sympathise with those academics in the postscript :P

message 35: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) I'm not sure Kevin its we don't care about histories or indeed current events but there are limits to how emotionally involved you can become. It's a defence mechanism. We can all appreciate how terrible something is, that's basic empathy, but to let it go deeper requires a lot of energy. It would be both emotionally and physically exhausting to let ourselves become overly emotionally involved to the point events deeply upset us. And it can be hard to care deeply about something which is entirely abstract to your own life, you're too busy caring about those things and people which relate to you.

Marcia | 437 comments Carrying on from what Emma has said I think it is impossible to truly empathise when we have not experienced what another person has gone through.

I think it was in the last part or somewhere in the post script when we read about history we interpret it from what we know ourselves.

message 37: by Rose (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rose (rosemendez) | 41 comments Wow! I'm really surprised that it seems that I am alone in that I did not like this book. It took me a really long time to muddle my way thru it and the whole time I kept going because I was sure SOMETHING was actually going to happen. In some ways it was reminiscent of Never Let Me Go, but not nearly as beautifully put together, or relatable. I also stayed away from the threads until now and I'm quite surprised at all the positive comments... I'm really feeling like I must have somehow missed something, but I'm going to move on....

message 38: by Serf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Serf I had a few issues with this book myself Rose, I think the orphanmasters son is a better read of a similar story. I wasn't a fan of how she switched between reality and the main character reminiscing or dreaming and also didn't like how she threw in some phrases for shock value.
It was a 3.5 read for me

message 39: by Rose (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rose (rosemendez) | 41 comments For me it was more of a 2.5 read.

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