A Review of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
As a reader you will encounter a variety of books throughout your journey. There are those that send shivers down your spine, there are those that prod you to reflect and there is this one that does both. You could sometimes be reading about the past or about a dystopian future and then there is this that makes you wonder if the future is going to be as dull dreary and desolate as the dark ages of the past.
The Handmaid’s tale is set in Gilead, a fictional nation that comes to be after a coup d’etat overthrows the US government in one swift move and slowly begins to control the bodies, minds and souls of the people that live there. The story is a first person narrative and we see Gilead through the eyes of Offred a Handmaid, or a two legged womb as she calls herself. Her sole divine duty to her nation is to produce an offspring for her commander.
As we journey through the story, we get to know that how this all happened. Offred, or Kate/June in her previous ‘life’, was a married to Luke and they had a daughter Moira. She had a very normal life and stays away from all political demonstrations and protests unlike her mother who is a self-styled activist. After the coup, things take a dramatic turn when the ultra-religious elite unleash their reign of terror. People are stratified into strict hierarchies and all the power concentrates into the hands of a few. Freedom in general is curtailed and there are severe capital punishments for even the most minutest of transgressions. The narrators family tries to escape this chaos by driving across the border but are caught in the act and that is the last they see of each other. Offred, being a woman in her reproductive phase is captured and inducted into being a handmaiden. Her daughter is given up into a foster family of the elite. What happens to her husband is something we never get to know.
Some of the things that really caught my eye as I read the book are:
- Margaret Atwood emphasises a lot on the power of reading and writing. Except the ultra elite men of Gilead, no one is allowed to read or write anything. This steeps the entire society into complete intellectual darkness as it stops the exchange of ideas.
- It takes real courage and strength to standup to what is wrong. The real test of character is the ability to oppose those in power in an overwhelmingly tyrannical system.
- Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. While preaching austerity to the enslaved masses, the elite of Gilead indulge in all forms of debauchery in secret without an iota of shame or guilt.
- There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained between too orderly and too
The best part about The Handmaid’s Tale is that it does not offer to take down this rule. It does talk about revolutions or uprisings happening in the country but the sole focus of the story is what happens in the house in such a dystopia.