“Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.”
Margaret Atwood’s classic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, is a story that is uncomfortable and difficult to deal with. Set in a dystopian America, the government has been overthrown by religiously conservative extremists, the constitution is gone, and women have had their rights stripped from them. They are sorted into occupations that reverted back into traditional female roles, from being housewives and cooks and maids.
The story centers around Offred, a handmaid, whose sole job is to procreate. Throughout the book, Offred gives glimpses into life in Gilead, from the religious rhetoric that permeates everyday life to the harsh constraints placed on women in their respective roles. As a handmaid, Offred, her name literally being “of Fred,” gets moved from house to house trying to repopulate the country. Her only job is to be fertile and get pregnant. In the novel, Offred gives us background on how Gilead came to be, her life before it.
Readers are also given insight into the lives of other women and their roles through Offred’s eyes, from women who are resisting, and to those confined to the house.
Atwood’s novel was incredibly relevant at the time of its publication. The historical context of its release is correlated to its success at the time. During the mid 80s, when the novel was published, women were facing backlash against gains made during the 60s and 70s such as sexual freedom and birth control.
With the rise of religious conservative parties, Atwood’s novel presented a future that was perceived as a potential outcome of that time. That same context is making this novel come back to life 30 years later. Poignant lines that were written decades ago are still somehow so relevant.
With the issue of feminism and sexism at its core, The Handmaid’s Tale branches out touching upon issues of religion, nuclear power and pollution, and other important topics. Decades later, Atwood’s story is bleak, and hard to read, yet incredibly pertinent to life even in 2017.
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About the Author
Margaret Atwood is a Canadian author and activist. She has written numerous books of poetry but is best known for her novels.
Many of her novels center around feminism, specifically focusing on women in patriarchal societies.
The Handmaid’s Tale has been produced into a TV show which can be watched on Hulu.
She is an avid reader, and never leaves for a trip without her kindle and a couple of books. She currently writes for her school's entertainment magazine and Flawless Mag.