The Seasonal Reading Challenge discussion

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GROUP READS > The Handmaid's Tale Discussion

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message 1: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia (pandoraphoebesmom) | 1378 comments If you choose to read The Handmaid's Tale for the Group Reads task (or another task for that matter) please feel free to discuss it here.


message 2: by Megan (new)

Megan Anderson (ms_anderson) | 1481 comments I almost don't want to post any actual "discussion"-type stuff because I don't want to give anything away for the others who are reading this book, but I lovelovelovelovelove Margaret Atwood, and this is an even better book now than when I first read it almost ten years ago. Having taken lit analysis courses added a whole new dimension to it, as did growing up a bit. I can't wait for more people to finish it so we can talk about more of the interesting aspects and issues in the book!


message 3: by Titilayo (new)

Titilayo | 8 comments i read this book for the last challenge. it was just as boring as it was in high school! the historical context of the inspirations for the book are neat, but they do not translate well into the story


message 4: by Angela (new)

Angela | 370 comments I started this and could not get into it for the last challenge, but the other book club picks do not appeal to me, so I will try again. I think I got to page 50 or so the first go around.


message 5: by Josalyn (new)

Josalyn | 80 comments How funny, I am having a hard time putting the book down. I haven't heard a whole lot of great things about it though, so maybe I had low expectations. I'm getting kind of sick of reading about how men are pigs though. I just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns. They seem to fit together pretty well, although I've been feeling really guilty for having such a great husband. I'm interested to see how this one ends.


message 6: by Nicole (last edited Mar 03, 2010 03:13PM) (new)

Nicole  | 117 comments I just finished it, and I'm not sure saying I really liked it captures how I feel, but I did find this book really intriguing. This was my second Atwood, I had read The Year of the Flood and found that a little too off the wall, but I think it's interesting that she seems to always write dystopian societies. I understand that Year of the Floor was a continuation of Oryx and Crake; does anyone know if any of her other books continue Handmaid's Tale? It just kind of stopped, and I wondered if she ever continued?


message 7: by El (new)

El Nicole NC, none of her other books continue Handmaid's Tale. It is a stand-alone... though in my reading of most of Atwood's books, I feel like they are all connected in some way, though it might not have been Atwood's intention. :) But no, there is no direct continuation of Handmaid... I think because it's up to the reader to decide what really happens.


message 8: by Nicole (new)

Nicole  | 117 comments El wrote: "Nicole NC, none of her other books continue Handmaid's Tale. It is a stand-alone... though in my reading of most of Atwood's books, I feel like they are all connected in some way, though it might ..."

Thanks El. It's certainly a book that makes you think and wonder. I was thinking about it last night and curious, did she ever spell out what made a baby good, as opposed to be a shredder?


message 9: by Megan (new)

Megan Anderson (ms_anderson) | 1481 comments I assumed a "good" baby is one that is biologically "normal"--no deformities or disabilities. However, there has to be something more to it than that, since the baby at the birthing was assumed to be "good" initially. Maybe the baby can't be fussy, either?


message 10: by El (new)

El Nicole NC wrote: "Thanks El. It's certainly a book that makes you think and wonder. I was thinking about it last night and curious, did she ever spell out what made a baby good, as opposed to be a shredder?"

Ms. Anderson is correct in suggesting a "shredder" has some sort of physical deformity or disability or birth defect. And the "keepers" are the ones who are born free of any defects. I remember the thing about there being no ultrasounds, so they never knew if they were carrying one or the other until they gave birth. If they gave birth to a "shredder" it would be taken away, but no one seemed to know what that meant. Wasn't it Ofglen who said she didn't even want to know? It's been years since I've read this, but that seems right to me.


message 11: by Josalyn (new)

Josalyn | 80 comments I finished! My favorite part was the end/prologue, the college lecture. It was pretty hysterical. It was interesting how many different aspects from so many different cultures she included in the culture of that society. She presented two extremes in the book, which led me to the conclusion that all extremes are bad. Overall a very interesting read.


message 12: by Nicole (new)

Nicole  | 117 comments Ms Anderson wrote: "I assumed a "good" baby is one that is biologically "normal"--no deformities or disabilities. However, there has to be something more to it than that, since the baby at the birthing was assumed to ..."

Maybe that was it (being fussy). Because the baby that was born during the group birth (to which I can only say wow) they first thought was a good baby and without deformities, but then decided it was bad.


message 13: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 90 comments Great read!


message 14: by Kim D (new)

Kim D (kdimattia) | 199 comments I enjoyed it for the most part. I definitely didn't find it boring. I'm disappointed in the ending though, I really want to know what happened to Offred!


message 15: by Kim (new)

Kim  | 0 comments I just finished this book and I didn't really like it, yet I wanted to know what happened to the characters. It's the first book I read by Atwood and I am not sure if I will read anymore by her. Are her other books similar in style? I was disappointed with the ending too! I wanted to know what happened to Offred too.


message 16: by Pollyanna (new)

Pollyanna (polly8) | 114 comments I finished this yesterday and I really liked it. I felt it was quite easy to read compared to what I was expecting and felt for Offred a lot. I found this book really creepy, because it is something that could happen.


message 17: by Julia (new)

Julia (bambbles) | 119 comments I just finished it about 20 minutes ago (Hello 3:30!) and I have to say I did find it very engaging and the prospect of such a society intrigued me. I really didn't like the layout of it initially. In fact, I still didn't really like it, I just got used to it. I understand why the author chose it to be choppy and disjointed. Hell, if I were the protagonist I would be lucky to string together two words about that experience let alone a "memoir".

Overall it was okay. I enjoyed it, I guess if "enjoy" is the right word for this type of book. But I don't really enjoy literary analysis so I feel like I may be missing something deeper with this book.

Am I glad I read it, sure. Would I read it again? Probably not.


message 18: by Alicia (last edited Mar 16, 2010 12:43AM) (new)

Alicia (aliciaftw) I wasn't a big fan of this book. The concept behind it was great, but I had trouble reading through because the book was a stream of consciousness. Actions and dialogue are scarce, I felt it was mostly full of thoughts.


message 19: by Hannah (new)

Hannah (hannahtheblonde) I had actually read this book in college, but it was nice to read it again. I think Atwood's ideas are interesting -- but perhaps a bit dated. I'm thinking particularly of the passage in the book where Offred recounts losing access to her money and property. I just can't see that happening in today's society -- at least not without large scale riots. But maybe I'm naive and the same could even happen in today's American society.

When my husband saw me reading the book (it was actually his copy from our college class -- I loved reading his margin notes!), he quipped that the book should be subtitled "Men are Bastards". But I don't think that Atwood necessarily made men the "bad guys" in this book. There were relatively decent men in the book, and Serena Joy and Aunt Lydia were more menacing antagonists than the Commander. I thought most of the blame was being placed on religion (specifically conservative Christianity) and its views of men and women.

Anyway, interesting ideas and, as I said, I was glad to read it again. I actually want to look up some critical analysis and see what was going on with all of the flowers mentioned in the book.


message 20: by Deirdre (new)

Deirdre Skaggs (deirdre04) | 102 comments This was my first Atwood experience, and I'm wavering in my desire to like it for the story it is and my overwhelming feeling of disgust at its fictional society.

Nonetheless, I think the majority of the time, I spent reading in jaw-dropping awe, like, I can't believe she just wrote that! It was like trying to pull your eyes away from a terrible train wreck: sometimes, you just have to look.

Regarding the whole "shredders" thing, I sometimes wondered if the Wife, despite wanting a child so bad, would sometimes get so jealous of the Handmaid as to kill the child or otherwise inflict some kind of deformity on the child to thereby deem it a shredder. That one Wife got hanged... Perhaps that is why Baby Angela at first seemed like a keeper but then became a shredder. Perhaps it wasn't Baby Angela's fault at all...

Anyway, this book was definitely creepy, as Pollyanna said, and definitely makes me feel almost guilty for having a fantastic husband, as Josalyn said. Not sure if I'll venture into another Atwood too soon...


message 21: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (eagle1964) | 271 comments Thank you Deirdre for your post because I was totally creeped out. Although I did not like the book at all the author did keep me turning pages to see if I was going to get more back information. I am not sure that I will ever read another Atwood novel. This one was waaaaay too much for me. I just didn't like the idea behind the story. Guess that is why it is called fiction and they have license to write any story they want. Whew I am glad that task is done with.


message 22: by Jennifer N. (new)

Jennifer N. | 422 comments I enjoyed the book. I thought the ending was great. I love books that don't spell everything out for you and instead leave you to decide what you think happened. I felt incredibly bad for Moira. She had fought with passion and until the end never accepted her "lot in life". Reading about how she gave up in the end was heartbreaking for me. I will gladly read another of Atwood's books


message 23: by Wendy (new)

Wendy | 588 comments I also found this book very creepy...very creepy!!


message 24: by Megan (new)

Megan Anderson (ms_anderson) | 1481 comments I really like how slippery a slope it is. The original purpose of the legislation and Gilead was to protect women (as an offshoot of all the violent crimes against women and Take Back the Night and all of that), and it just spun out of control. It is scary, but that's the point.


message 25: by Wendy (new)

Wendy | 588 comments Ms Anderson wrote: "I really like how slippery a slope it is. The original purpose of the legislation and Gilead was to protect women (as an offshoot of all the violent crimes against women and Take Back the Night and..."

I remember marching in a Take Back the Night march in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1970!!!


message 26: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 15 comments Despite all the mixed emotions I felt while reading this book, I enjoyed it. The story angered me, but in a good way. I know it is a novel, but it just goes to show what fear can do to a group of people, which is kind of terrifying in and of itself. It also makes me thank God for separation of church and state! I had never read Atwood prior to this book, and I would be interested in reading more of her work. She did a great job here of allowing the reader to draw her own conclusion as to what happens to Offred, which was different. I have already started telling people I know about this book and how they should pick it up and read it!


message 27: by Shelley (new)

Shelley | 57 comments Overall I enjoyed this book, particularly the Historical Notes at the end. It made me appreciate the disjointed way that the document was written and wish that some of that context had been given at the beginning. I am a fan of dystopian novels and like the way that they warn against that slippery slope that we can all easily fall down. As in mostdystopian tales, the clash is between the "good" of society as a whole and the individual. There is also the background context of what we as humans have done to the Earth, creating pollution that not only affects animals but our food system and individual health. As has been discussed here, I believe that the difference between a "shredder" and a good baby is viability. As was mentioned, ultrasounds and other medical interventions were no longer used unless absolutely necessary and that would include any tests after the child was born to determine its health. With so many pollutants in the environment as well as the viral weapon developed, there were many reasons that babies were hard to conceive and could have many other health defects that detectable by sight when they were born. Overall, this story gives us many things to think about in regards to what people are capable of, particularly individual strengths or weaknesses and how quickly the mob-mentality of groups can change what is "normal".


message 28: by Masanobu (new)

Masanobu | 158 comments I'm a huge fan of dystopias, so I'm glad I read this book. At the end I was asking myself why I had been putting it off for such a long time. I appreciated the "stream of consciousness" way of narrating the novel. It made Offred a more believable character.
Actually I don't think what happened to Offred is that important. Every possible final was discussed in the Historical Notes (interesting device, by the way), and the recording of the tapes say that at least she didn't die immediately, as I don't think she was recording when the Eyes (or Mayday resistance) were taking her from the house. For me, the accent is in Gileadan structure and its consequences in individuals.
Concerning the babies, although I could say easily several diseases that would make the baby not viable that would be undetected right after the birth, I really like Deirdre explanation as how a perfect baby could turn to a "shredder" - it goes really well with the hatred I suppose Wives would feel.
I also felt for Moira, how she proggresively adjusted to her place in the new society. Although Offred was never much of an active character, I think knowing what Moira had become made her much harm, as she became even more passive.
My only complaint is that I found it a bit dated.


message 29: by Brenda (new)

Brenda G | 66 comments Wow! I picked this book without reading the description first. I think it is strange how books we read connect with each other. I just finished reading Among the Hidden by Haddix with my 7th graders. It is about a society that only allows two children per family in order to control population growth. What a contrast with Handmaidens!


message 30: by Wendy (new)

Wendy | 588 comments Brenda wrote: "Wow! I picked this book without reading the description first. I think it is strange how books we read connect with each other. I just finished reading Among the Hidden by Haddix with my 7th gra..."

If any of your seventh graders are very mature readers Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Silje is the non-sci fi, historical fiction story and discusses the Chinese one child rule.


message 31: by Liz M (new)

Liz M Definitely an unsettling read, but in a good way. I am in the "slippery-slope-that-could-happen" camp and didn't notice any dated-ness.

To me the overthrow of society and the completeness of state control felt akin to East Germany after WWII or the Iranian revolution--changes made so quickly, so completely, they become unstoppable.

It began with a coup that murdered the President of the US and many members of Congress. Children were disappearing off the streets and marchers/rioters were fired upon without hesitation or warning. How does an individual, or even a group of individuals fight that much organized, concentrated power?

I was fascinated by the descriptions of how the clothing they wear not only effects what they can visually see, but also their world-view. Offred enjoys taunting the guards by showing them...>gasp< an ankle! Or her reaction to the Japanese tourists in heels, uncovered hair, and make-up. Even more telling is her reaction to her own body in the bath--it has become alien.

What I really enjoyed was the construction of this strange, fantastical society that was made real by ingenious touches. I love the scene when the Commander and Offred have their first clandestine meeting. And they play scrabble.

Given the non-linear structure of the novel, I thought it was really well done. I found it easy to follow because of how carefully the time shifts are indicated, either by saying "..it was five weeks ago" or "Luke and I used to..."

While not knowing the final outcome of Offred is frustrating, had Atwood given us a definitive end it would have been disappointing. If Offred survives and escapes to Canada to live "happily-ever-after" it undermines Atwood's construction of the totalitarian society. If Offred is caught and punished, the novel is too bleak and hopeless. Either way, I think knowing her ending detracts from the powerful portrait of the Gilead dystopia.


message 32: by Dlmrose (new)

Dlmrose | 16892 comments Mod
I just finished my third reading of this book (I had already read the other 2 group read choices as well) It is powerful. I think reading about the recent events in Uganda regarding the proposed death penalty for gays and mandatory 7 year prison sentences for failure to report knowledge made this book even more powerful. Politcal thinking can change quickly and freedoms that we thought were secure can be undermined. (I won't start on Orwell, 1984, and privacy) I thought that like 1984, The Handmaid's Tale was an interesting take on a society's use of control to "protect" and how power can be used and manipulated.
Offred's memories of recent times made this book even scarier. Atwood did not set this book in some distant future or some alternate reality, Offred had memories that were familiar to me. I found myself wondering how I would handle the loss of everything I knew. Would I succumb? rebel? participate?
The Historical Notes section was a nice postscript. I was relieved that Professor Maryann Crescent Moon was the Chair of the symposium- at least by 2195, women had regained the freedom to read.


message 33: by BZMoney (new)

BZMoney | 160 comments Excellent book! Dystopian novels draw me in & are very interesting to me. I love how (as in 1984) despite how much control “they” think they have, they cannot abate people’s passion, sexuality and drive/hope for a better/different way of life. It’s interesting how people deal with the change in different ways. I would have liked more details about how the change in society took place, how they gained control, who “they” were. I was frustrated at the end, but I also thought it was very clever, leaving it wide open. It left me wanting More, More, More!


message 34: by BJ Rose (new)

BJ Rose (bjrose) | 822 comments Josalyn wrote: "I finished! My favorite part was the end/prologue, the college lecture. It was pretty hysterical. It was interesting how many different aspects from so many different cultures she included in the c..."

Josalyn, I agree with you about the epilogue. When I got to that part, I was so sure it was going to be boring, and was tempted to skim thru it, but am so glad I didn't. It filled in some missing parts for me. And it was also an encouraging sign - people were free to congregate and communicate and have fun, and women were again free to read and to pursue an education and jobs.

But what's the significance of the new name for the U.S. (can't even recall it now - Nunivin or something like that?!) Maybe a biblical relationship to Nineveh?

Josalyn, I'm with you about the great husband, except I don't feel guilty, I feel blessed!


message 35: by BJ Rose (new)

BJ Rose (bjrose) | 822 comments I think one of the biggest things for me in The Handmaid's Tale is the total depersonalization of women. The use of their bodies was bad enough, but the removal of names was almost worse - that they had significance only through the man they were servicing: of Fred, of Warren, etc. That was so chilling and demeaning.

Here's my review


message 36: by El (new)

El BJ Rose wrote: "But what's the significance of the new name for the U.S. (can't even recall it now - Nunivin or something like that?!) Maybe a biblical relationship to Nineveh?"

Republic of Gilead in Atwood

Gilead in the Bible


Still sort of leaves a lot to think about in regards to the significance of the name.


message 37: by BJ Rose (last edited Apr 15, 2010 09:19AM) (new)

BJ Rose (bjrose) | 822 comments El wrote: "BJ Rose wrote: "But what's the significance of the new name for the U.S. (can't even recall it now - Nunivin or something like that?!) Maybe a biblical relationship to Nineveh?"

Republic of Gile..."


Thanks, El - I wasn't clear enough in my question. I did understand the naming of the new Gilead in the body of the book ("there is a balm in Gilead") - I was referring to the epilogue, when it references where the 2195 conference took place. It named two places - England and Nunivin? (I returned the book so can't check the name) - that's what I was wondering about.


message 38: by El (new)

El Whoops, sorry, BJ Rose! Yeah, I'll have to look back at that when I get home. (I don't know why I don't just keep a copy on hand at all times - I talk about it enough, lol.)


message 39: by BJ Rose (new)

BJ Rose (bjrose) | 822 comments El wrote: "Whoops, sorry, BJ Rose! Yeah, I'll have to look back at that when I get home. (I don't know why I don't just keep a copy on hand at all times - I talk about it enough, lol.)"

Thanks! I look forward to your opinion on that.


message 40: by Dlmrose (new)

Dlmrose | 16892 comments Mod
BJ Rose wrote: "El wrote: "BJ Rose wrote: "But what's the significance of the new name for the U.S. (can't even recall it now - Nunivin or something like that?!) Maybe a biblical relationship to Nineveh?"

Republi..."


I checked my copy for Nunavit and now I am rethinking some things- this book sure makes me do that often- If this conference took place in the far north of Canada, did things in the former US ever improve? I was struck by the condescending tone of Piexoto comments and thought it was just an academic's view of his provincial subject, but now the comments seem much more creepy.


message 41: by BJ Rose (new)

BJ Rose (bjrose) | 822 comments Dlmrose, that's a depressing thought, but does bear thinking about. I guess when I saw mention of Maine as the place where the diary was found (or is that wrong?), I thought it was an indication that life had improved in the old U.S. Maybe I'll have to check it out again just to reread the epilogue about the conference.


message 42: by BJ Rose (new)

BJ Rose (bjrose) | 822 comments Dlmrose wrote: "I checked my copy for Nunavit ..."

Nunavit is a real Canadian province?! I'm ashamed of myself for not knowing this! It does put a different perspective on the epilogue for me.


message 43: by Dlmrose (new)

Dlmrose | 16892 comments Mod
BJ, that was my impression too. I have found another interpretation (I'm a card-carrying member of the "look it up club" from elementary school 1970)
"The Chair comes from the University of "deny" which is in the country of "none of it."
I think it shows Atwood's mastery- each time I read it I find something new.
And the tapes were found in what was once Bangor.


message 44: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Jensen (Literally Jen) (vampsita) As someone else said before me, the most interesting part of this novel is the college lecture at the end. Like today, we have pieces of the puzzle of the past to try to understand our ancestors' history. Some things we can understand, yet other things we can only infer.


message 45: by scherzo♫ (last edited Apr 22, 2010 10:53AM) (new)

scherzo♫ (pjreads) I just re-read The Handmaid's Tale (1986) and liked it well enough but it still pales in comparison to Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue series (1984) which has some similar themes with a better story and characters.
Native Tongue
The Judas Rose: Native Tongue II
Earthsong


message 46: by BJ Rose (new)

BJ Rose (bjrose) | 822 comments pjreads wrote: "I just re-read The Handmaid's Tale (1986) and liked it well enough but it still pales in comparison to Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue series (1984) which has some similar themes ..."

And yet more books go on the Wishlist!


message 47: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (daliz) I finished this book late, late last night. I just couldn't put it down at the end. However, all this discussion has encouraged me to go re-read the final lecture.

I love a good dystopic society story, but I have to admit this one gave me the chills. I very much enjoyed the book but I just cringed reading it.

To have reading be against the law for women facinated me. It was one detail that stuck in my brain over the past few days even when I didn't have my nose in this book. Can anyone imagine written words being removed from everyday life? -- (Looking around my living room there's a soda bottle, a greeting card, a brand name on the tv...not just books!)

Is reading/writing a skill that can be lost over time? Consider how difficult it must have been for her when she did use it. Perhaps that explains the tapes?


message 48: by BJ Rose (new)

BJ Rose (bjrose) | 822 comments Amanda wrote: "I finished this book late, late last night. I just couldn't put it down at the end. However, all this discussion has encouraged me to go re-read the final lecture.

Is reading/writing a skill that can be lost over time? Consider how difficult it must have been for her when she did use it. Perhaps that explains the tapes?"


What an excellent point, Amanda! That just skipped right past me - I guess I was too fixated on the many things that were done to de-personalize women.


message 49: by Sandie (new)

Sandie (chocdrop) | 214 comments I see books like this, read the synopsis, then put them back and avoid them like the plague! And yet, for the second time this challenge, I have found myself surprised by how easy to read a book was.

I have read both The Road by Cormac McCarthy and now The Handmaid's Tale and in both cases, purely because of the subject matter, I assumed that they would be really tough going. (I read The Road in an afternoon.)

Whilst the storyline was very disturbing, I found it very hard to put The Handmaid's Tale down. I liked the way it was written, the glimpses into the past showing how this society had developed. I'm glad we don't know what happened to Offred. This isn't the sort of story that can be wrapped up with a happy ending and it would have been far too bleak if she had been caught.

This is the first book by Margaret Atwood that I have read and I would now consider reading some more of her works.


message 50: by Wendy (new)

Wendy | 588 comments Sandie wrote: "I see books like this, read the synopsis, then put them back and avoid them like the plague! And yet, for the second time this challenge, I have found myself surprised by how easy to read a book w..."

That's the part that I love most about the challenges-I am forced to diversify my reading selections.


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