Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by M. Atwood

As you know now from reading the first post on my new platform here, the reason I decided to journey back to the blog world was on account of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book had such an effect on me. Had I read this book at any time when there wasn't an important election taking place (I literally finished it the day that Obama was elected for a second term), an election that could shape women's rights and freedoms for years to come, I don't think that it would have gotten under my skin quite as much as it did. Having been written in 1986 and forecasting a future where women have absolutely no rights (they aren't allowed to read, Heaven forbid this ever happen), I thought that  the book was starting to come true. We had disgusting men who are not doctors who think that they know what's best for women's bodies- sounds a lot like the commanders!

Offred is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead in the (near) future. We are lead to believe that this place was once Maine but ever since humans destroyed the world with too much pollution (that sounds familiar) women have become sterile and the population is dwindling. Somehow the population has to grow and so those in charge, The Commanders, begin a regime of oppression and male-dominance. First, all of the women's finances are taken from their control and given to the next male of kin, then people are fired from their jobs and the government takes over (all of this happening after a renegade group of "Christians" slaughter all leaders of the US government and tries to play it off as an Islamic Terrorist Attack ) Families are torn apart, women with viable ovaries are dragged into brainwashing camps where they must learn to be complacent and to live as the Old Testament states that they should. Spewing out Bible verses that only support their side of a situation, the commanders toss all females who can't have children into a dreaded place called The Colonies where the people spend their days cleaning up toxic waste. This situation seems pretty bleak to Offred (who is a piece of property named after her commander, a man named Fred, so in sum she becomes known only as the property Of Fred) who longs for her husband (who's most likely dead), a daughter that is used as leverage to get her to behave, and a best friend who committed a gender crime by being gay. Is there any way for Offred to escape this horrible situation?

The Handmaid's Tale

Title:The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publication Date: 1986
Pages: 311
Publisher: Anchor Books
Where I got it: Used at Goodwill
Dates I read it: November 4-9, 2012
Number of stars: 5/5

Plot: 4.5 
What I liked:
The story was engrossing to the max. Like Offred, the reader has many questions that they are yearning to get answered. The story moves along fast-paced despite the monotony and boredom of Offred's life. I liked the feminist spirit that Offred held onto despite the camp that she was subjected to and despite the life that she must now lead.
What I didn't like:
I didn't like a turn that it took around the late-middle of the book. I will be vague so as not to give anything away, but there is a time in the book when Offred is allowed to leave the house at night for an event, and it seemed out of place to me. The costumes that are required dress code at this event seemed odd and disproportionate to the rest of the story.
I obviously didn't like the male-dominance of the society, but that was the reaction that I was supposed to have.

Characters: 5
What I liked:
I liked all of the characters for the role that they played (that does not mean that I liked all of the characters). Each character fit perfectly into their own little niche and served the purpose that they were meant to. They were all fully formed and I felt like I understood the motives each had for doing what he/she did.
I liked Moira most of all. Moira is a feminist, free-spirited lesbian who does what she has to to survive and break free of the life that is being forced on her.
What I didn't like:
There wasn't a lot I didn't like about how the characters were written. Like I said they were fully formed and believable  I trusted the narrator, because her honesty was so raw she put herself in danger by revealing her thoughts and desire and I felt I had no reason to be suspect of her.

Prose: 4.5
What I liked:

The prose was difficult at times, but once I got a rhythm going, I found that I could keep it going. I felt like I came to a point where I understood Offred and I understood how she was narrating, but it did take some time.
I noticed as I was reading it, I was reading it in my mind in a voice that I didn't recognize (does that sound weird?). Usually I just read but with this, I felt it echo in my head in the way that I imagined Offred's voice probably sounded.
What I didn't like:
I struggled with the narrator's voice at several points in the book. She does not use quotation marks and the prose is often blunt. I found myself several times having to re-read a section to fully comprehend what was happening.

Pulled Quotes:
Don't let the bastards grind you down.
I am not your justification for existence.
I feel like the word shatter.

Recommended for:
-I know that this book was banned in many high schools, but that this could be a great book to read with an honors or an AP high school English class.
-English majors in connection with a Womens and Genders Study class
-People who will be here in the future

Final Thoughts:
To say that I was impressed by the magnitude of this book doesn't mean anything. If the government must step in and rule our lives, the first thing that needs to happen is that everyone must be required to read this book as a warning about how truly awful our futures could be if we don't shape up NOW!

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