The Handmaid’s Tale: A Novel That Isn’t White Noise

The Handmaid's Tale: A Novel That Isn't White Noise

August Wells

“We thought we had such problems. How were we to know we were happy?

-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

 

 

“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of the print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

 

       An insightful look into another realm is what Margaret Atwood sculpted in the flowing pages known as The Handmaid’s Tale. Although it now has a television series, the book was published in 1985. It was a new, controversial book at the time, and some may argue it still is. The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a character called Offred who now lives in a different world in which she is a reproductive slave to elite couples. She has extreme restrictions, just like the rest of the women who aren’t an elite. Life wasn’t always like this, and this is highlighted as Offred describes the past and how it used to be. This is just the surface of Atwood’s novel.

     The events in this book occur because of an uprising problem which is exhibited in Offred’s flashbacks. When life was normal, there were a group of people trying to change the United States, where this takes place. When this group succeeded, almost all women had their rights taken away. They lost their ability to have a job, a bank account, their own home, relationships, everything. They were submitted to work under the rich and wealthy couples who had trouble conceiving. They became reproductive slaves to these couples. Their jobs were to be inseminated by their “masters” or the male in the couple. This ritual was performed every month. All these women’s worth had been summed down to if they can get pregnant or not. And of course, they don’t get to keep the child. The women who never got pregnant were given other, lesser jobs. There was quite a bit of competition on this. All of them had very few other things they could do. These women were allowed no contact with any men other than their master. Offred explains all these rules and how they affect her. Through the book, she breaks these rules and then some. Offred meets other maids, some who make it, some who don’t. She makes enemies and reaches a goal that is all she can do in her position. She puts herself in fatal positions. However, is it really worth it? Will this really make her any happier? It’s questionable if she’ll ever find happiness in this immoral world she lives in.

     The Handmaid’s Tale was not first appreciated at its time. It was viewed as a feminist’s idea of the apocalypse. However, some people were actually quite pleased with the book at the time. Joyce Johnson of The Washington Post once said in the 80’s, “Just as the world of Orwell’s 1984 gripped our imaginations, so will the world of Atwood’s handmaid. She has succeeded in finding a voice for her heroine that is direct, artless, utterly convincing. It is the voice of a woman we might know, of someone very close to us. In fact, it is Offred’s poignant sense of time that gives this novel its peculiar power. The immense changes in her life have come so fast that she is still in a state of shock and disbelief as she relates to us what she sees around her.” Her words blew away some people, even back then. “Margaret Atwood’s cautionary tale of post-feminist future shock pictures a nation formed by a backlash against feminism, but by nuclear accidents, chemical pollution, radiation poisoning, a host of our present problems run amok. Ms. Atwood draws as well on New England Puritan history for her repressive 22nd-century society. Her deft sardonic humor makes much of the action and dialogue in the novel funny and ominous at the same time.” Quoted from NYT Editor’s Choice pick, 1986. Clearly The Handmaid’s Tale has impacted the minds of large critics out there.

    As this book goes for me personally, I absolutely adore it. I remember reading it, liking it, but not fully appreciating its message. Atwood intended the book to show a future that isn’t impossible. An apocalypse that would destroy women and their rights forever. I have informed myself, and as a feminist, I see how deep this book goes. Atwood was sharing this message, not even directing towards feminism, but towards the world. Such evil can take place, swallowing every entity and minimizing it until all has no meaning. This book captures the immorality in it, the dehumanization of all these worthy women. All who lost their will to live, their rights, and their freedom. It is something they fought so hard for, taken away in a second. It bullies the patriarchy and its unfairness. It reveals a sad but undeniable truth on our society. This book shoves down the thoughts of the sexist and old-fashioned. I can’t describe my admiration and enjoyment for this novel. With all the issues it describes and sheds light on, this novel could fit the agenda for many people. I highly recommend reading it, and taking in every meaningful word.