The Handmaid's Tale (Everyman's Library)
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(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

A gripping vision of our society radically overturned by a theocratic revolution, Margaret Atwood¡¯s The Handmaid's Tale has become one of the most powerful and most widely read novels of our time.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife. She may go out once a day to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for in a time of declining birthrates her value lies in her fertility, and failure means exile to the dangerously polluted Colonies. Offred can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Now she navigates the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules.

Like Aldous Huxley¡¯s Brave New World and George Orwell¡¯s Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid's Tale has endured not only as a literary landmark but as a warning of a possible future that is still chillingly relevant.

Customer Reviews:

  • A great wake up call for everyone
    I read this book about 15 years ago when I was in high school. I loved it then and wondered why it isn't required reading in every school. I'm sure the religious right (or should I say "Reich") would squash that. They don't want people getting any ideas on how horrible it would be if america became a theocracy.

    This book is one of the few I tell everyone to read, especially those who think that "voting doesn't matter". It's not a far fetched idea to think that this could happen in america....more info
  • Living within the Embryo of a Dystopia
    Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale knows no boundaries taking the suppression of woman as sex slaves to the extremity of reproductive Handmaids. Dictated by the totalitarian Republic of Gilead, Atwood's Ofglen restricts the readers to sympathize with her struggles and concerns with reoccurring flashbacks to her lost identity amidst the constant turmoil of her role as Handmaid. Her internal conflicts dealing with her resignation within the dystopia is further enhanced by her willpower and determination to escape.

    Masterfully plotted, symbolically insinuated, The Handmaid's Tale evokes a sense of hope and liberation through the drastic turn of events by juxtaposing the confines to which Ofglen is valued based on the functionality of her uterus. Through constrained and controlled diction, Atwood forces the readers to experience Ofglen's perspective limiting them to seeing the Republic in a disjointed narrative. Provoking senses of regret, lust, and longing, Atwood stresses the depressing and heartbreaking position in which Ofglen is condemned to. Love is forbidden to her, simple pleasures are refused to her, and all she can do is wait, wait for her impregnation by a man she doesn't even love nor care for. Ofglen is truly a tragic character, yet her resigned attitude in the beginning makes the conclusion even more riveting and climatic. Leaving her fate as ambiguous stresses Ofglen's escape of a past she has no place in and Ofglen's embrace of a future she is unconsciously willing to pursue. Eliciting finality, Atwood's emphasizes Ofglen's willingness to accept her fate of a new beginning or end. She knows no fear but rather clenches onto hope as she is carried off in the black van.

    Inciting rage, frustration, sympathy, and relief, Atwood's Handmaid's Tale monumentally constructs a thought-provoking account that is both intriguing and all-too realistic. Her syntax blossoms the barren and fruitful emotions that consumes Ofglen; in addition to the constant strife of self-identity. Throughout the novel, Atwood builds upon the multi-faceted persona of Ofglen, unfolding her identity bit by bit. This novel both mentally and psychologically stimulates the readers to feel for Ofglen and her subservient role.

    The Handmaid's tale brilliantly encapsulates an array of emotional turmoil, leaving an aftertaste of satisfaction and completion in the conclusion. This book displays the true ingenuity of Atwood and her stylistically engaging syntax, allowing the plot to bloom into a novel of hope and acceptance; truly an embryonic gem within a dystopia collection.
    ...more info
  • Intellectually profound and emotionally stirring
    In response to the growing movement of radical feminism of the mid 20th century, Margaret Atwood wrote the dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale. She created a completely alternate world, through which Atwood imagines the extreme consequences of uncheck feminism. Its oppressive setting is disturbing to a generation that indulges in rights and freedoms, enhancing the impact of her message.

    The narrator, Offred, lives in Gilead, a totalitarian regime that took over the United States. In that society, women are viewed as possessions, not allowed to read or write. In an age of declining birth rates, Offred and other fertile women like her find their sole reason for continued existence in their womb, their only use being reproduction. The plot is incredibly intense. The almost offensive extremes of the new government attract interest and its suspense holds the interest. However, the narration is not in chronological sequence but instead jumps around, providing fragments of the narrators past and her present situation. This format is hard to get used to. In the beginning, one often gets lost and confused as Atwood switches between Offred's experiences in the Red Center and her life in the Commander's house. For readers looking for a simple, quick read, the opening of the novel may prove to be to complex. However, as the reader gets used to this style and apprehends its presence, the plot becomes easier to follow.

    The eerie plausibility of the success of such a regime, especially in the democracy of the United States, provokes a set a questions. What direction is our society moving in? Is such a takeover possible in the United States? If so, what are we doing to protect our rights from such usurpation? Its message is profound and the author's caution is clear. The novel urges its readers to question the society that they live in, in hopes that such questioning will result in positive changes and reinforcements to the rights we now take for granted. The fact that a regime such as Gilead is not wholly impossible makes the story more engaging, as people try to envision the dramatic difference between their world and the one Atwood depicts.

    Atwood presents the inner struggles of the main character, Offred's choice between resignation and resistance, subtly, implied through her thoughts and actions. In a society where thoughts of the past are forbidden and pleasure is considered unnecessary, Offred's battle to hold on to her past and her search for a viable way of dealing with her life reveals her rebellion against the regime. Although Offred does not act out like the many other resistors in the novel, most notably Ofglen, she can still be viewed as a heroine through her suffering and her refusal to submit to the regime's oppressive demands.

    The syntactical structure of Atwood's narration and the abundance of imagery found throughout the book truly signifies The Handmaid's Tale's place as a classic of its time. The calm narration suggests Offred's defeat and submission to Gilead, but the choppy style of her flashback and her forbidden day dreams emphasizes that those are things that can never be suppressed. The images painted by Atwood attract the reader to delve deeper into the story. It helps the reader to envision and relate to Offred's circumstances, eliciting emotions of sympathy, shock, and disapproval.

    Truly engaging, The Handmaid's Tale is intellectually profound and emotionally stirring. However, it takes some motivation to get deeper into the tale. Nonetheless, its message is clear and daunting, and its impact equally as great.
    ...more info
  • excellent in spite of absurdity
    "The Handmaid's Tale" is highly descriptive and highly imaginative, with exceptional writing by Margaret Atwood. Her idea of taking a form of religious fundamentalism to extreme was surprisingly suspenseful, with a strong narrative drive and hints of interesting characters that prompted me to read it in one day.

    That sounds like a five-star book. Unfortunately, her premise that the story could occur in the United States to me is absurd. Even in the 2000s, with the usual arguments about abortion, feminism, and the separation of church and state, we are nothing at all like the totalitarian and anti-woman state in the novel. People who read the book with an eye toward whether America could become "Gilead" are making the wrong move, in my opinion. Read it instead as an alternate history, more like science fiction or "The Road", contemplating how people would behave, what the rules would be like, and how might dissent be fostered and suppressed.

    Ms. Atwood shines at the dreary details, with the different castes of women and the unending rules, including their evolution over time as the power-that-be accommodate reality and the population's own adaptations. Naturally, the leaders adopt the time-honored tradition of keeping the masses uneducated and disconnected, with public eliminations of "enemies". The main theme is men's domination over women, with religious fundamentalism as the vehicle. However, Atwood also indicts women, as there are plenty of women complicit in the elimination of most freedoms, either through passive acceptance or as active participants. One of the saddest likely truths is Atwood's observation that people without freedom will gradually forget what it was like before, and the subsequent generations may not miss what they never knew. In the end, she seems to believe that humanity's desire for excitement, love and freedom are not completely repressible and inevitably and eventually will triumph. (Speaking of the end, the "historical note" fell flat with its tone and message, other than its utility as "what happened later".)

    The other main flaw in the society she created is that nobody really wins and nobody is happy. Who is benefiting? The men seem miserable most of the time and most of the women are miserable. If the men really wanted to construct a government with complete domination of women, they could have done a better job. The religion-based approach, so unlike any modern religion, presumably was chosen by Atwood as an anti-religion statement and is an excellent hook for the definition of rules. However, it ends up so extreme and unrealistic that it clearly could not have survived at length....more info
  • My Second reading of this book
    I first read this book in Junior Highschool. I liked it then but I really like it now. I always liked dystopian stories and this one has a good mix of subjects but focuses on the female aspect of things in a way that many other books of a similar genre do not. Oppression is the focus of the book, breeding and the objectification of the human being. Powerful stuff portrayed in a accessable and fascinating read. If by chance you want a good fictional book that has merit instead of the filler/page turnerrs (which can be good too) pick this up, it will surprise you. Another highly suggested book....more info
  • Interesting dystopia and unique style of narration
    I read this book because I've enjoyed some classic dystopian novels like 1984, Brave New World, We (Yevgeny Zamyatin), Fahrenheit 451; and thought this would be interesting for the same reasons. It was satisfying for the vision of dystopia it offers but it was more than just that. The narration, told from first-person perspective, was so strong in its power to paint the mood and thoughts of the heroine that I could feel her pain as a male reader. This is a vision of the future that is not made frightening by advances in surveillance or reproductive technology, but as a warning of what society can become power is seized by blind ideology gone mad. Perhaps it is the author's feminine touch that adds the unique viewpoint from which you will live the story. I am recommending this book especially to readers who are interested in political religion, feminism, dystopian literature....more info
  • disturbingly fascinating
    This futuristic dystopian tale stems directly from the imagination of Margaret Atwood, as it hits on absurdities which have not yet been witnessed in this world. It takes Rachel Carson's theories of the effects of mass pollution to a whole other level as women everywhere become sterile, all except a few who are turned into "handmaids." Handmaids are fertile women who have been assigned to various high rank couples. The job of handmaids is one thing and one thing only: to get impregnated with the Commander's child, which she will have to give up later on. Consequently, women in general are stripped of their rights. This is especially evident when the first action the new oppressive government takes is to cancel the bank accounts of all women, rendering them as the property of men. In a world controlled by a few aristocratic men, the women are made to turn against each other to fight for their own survival. Wives willingly exercise their power over the handmaids and even Marthas have initiative over the handmaids. Or at least that is that the men intend. However, many females have formed secret relationships and connections, ones that help them to get through the ordeal mentally. Since their bodies are now considered objects of possession, their only escape is inward into their own minds, where they can concoct possibilities and keep their hopes alive. Essentially, those beaten to the point of submission are forced into a state of numbness, in which they learn to not feel and keep living through it.

    The story, told through the character of Offred, tends to be confusing at times as the plot is narrated in a jumbled and chaotic manner that mirrors the feelings of the narrator. Readers must be ready to actively read and connect certain details with others in order to reach a more unified plot. The underlying connections in the book can only be reached when one is willing to dive headfirst into the novel and sympathize with Offred. The fact that the made-up world is one in which none of us have encountered makes the story much more unpredictable and surprising. The beginning was almost unbearable for me as a struggled to understand what was going on. Despite the initial blandness, the book gradually warms up until it cuts off in an abrupt ending. Offred's simple language demonstrates a very personal and casual tone, which is reasonable enough since these are her thoughts that have been kept inside of her for so long. She longs for an outlet in which to exercise her power of expression. As one will soon realize, The Handmaid's Tale capitalizes on the individual's freedom of expression and how the presence of inner hope can sustain a person a long way. Don't be mistaken though, Offred is by no means an active and dynamic character. Her passivity and inability to live up to the characteristics of everyone's "ideal main character" gets more than annoying sometimes. All she ever does is dream of escape, but never does she take a step toward actual liberty. Offred is at a point where she views coping and endurance as her only hope. Regardless, she does elicit struggle and desperation, both common qualities of the regular human being.

    The Handmaid's Tale serves as a possible harbinger of what may occur in the near future. It opens us to the great many possibilities and downfalls that humans are still prone to. It emphasizes human's natural instinct for survival and human's natural instinct to indulge until there is no more and to indulge even when times are tough. To read it is to question whether humans have really reached a state of superiority over other animals. Have we really come that far? What prevents us from falling backwards?
    ...more info
  • captivating, didn't care for or feel satisfied by the ending...
    heavy at times, but I love Atwoods books. I would recommend this book.
    I did not care for the way the book ended, but I did learn a lot from it. It is eerie how close to the edge Atwood's stories go and yet as we peer into the future still believable. Atwoods dark imagination keeps me reading more and more of her books.
    My favorite to date: The Blind Assassin
    Least favorite to date: Cat's Eye or the Edible Woman...more info
  • I wasn't expecting this!!!!
    This book was written very well. I had the creeps while I was reading it. It reminded me of the movie "Children of Men" and the book "The Giver". The entire time I was reading this book, I kept thinking of a certain female vice presidential candidate. I am afraid that she would love the form of government that is described. This is a short read. Give it a whirl....more info
  • Dangerous Theocracy!
    Even if Ms Atwood claims this book is "main fiction", there is no doubt in my mind that it has all the traits of very good sci-fi.
    It is a dystopia depicting a very stark future, but not impossible in occurrence.
    In a not so far future, a theocratic government has taken power over USA using violent methods. The new society is shaped as a patriarchal hierarchy, relegating women to a very subordinate position. One step after other this totalitarian government has banned gays, other religious groups and political dissidents.
    The story is told by a Handmaid that is to say a fertile woman used as an official concubine by high ranking officials. Women have been stratified in rigid classes: Wives & Daughters, Handmaids, Marthas, Aunts and Housewives. Each class has its codified role and attributes under constant surveillance of males. Males are also stratified: Commanders, Angels, Eyes and Guards. They also are subjected to very strict behavior codes. Any intent of deviation is harshly punished.
    The Diary gives the reader inkling into the new society and how it came into existence, but not a detailed and complete picture, rendering the novel very believable and interesting.

    Ms. Atwood prose is very ascetic; short phrases devoid of adjectives gives her novel a very special taste. The reader is introduced into this stark universe little by little and the whole image takes some time to be grasped. As a final result a griping tale emerges.
    This novel has been compared, deservedly, with Orwell's "1984" and Huxley's "Brave New World" and in my view it stands to par with them.
    Reviewed by Max Yofre.
    ...more info
  • Fascinating but horrifying
    I finally read this after coming across several references to it. It's the scariest book I've ever read because 20 years later, I can still see it coming true. It was a bit confusing to read at first but the main plot was easy to grasp. This is one of my favorite books now....more info
  • This is a must read...
    This is without a doubt one of the best books of all time. The US government has been crippled by nuclear war and overthrown by a Christian Theocracy, which subjugates women and persecutes anyone who does not subscribe to the stated belief system. It's strict and secluded. The theocracy claims to protect its people, its women from how the world used to abuse them through rape and sexualization, by blaming the women and then perpetuating a worse sort of lifestyle. This book focuses on the story of one Handmaid, Offred (a name given to her after becoming a Handmaid). You can tell that Atwood is coming out of the feminist movement, as well as the backlash against feminism... Serena Joy was a lot like Phyllis Schlafly, who was quite vocal in her sense of traditionalism for women (and popularly, her stop ERA movement). Offred wasn't born a Handmaid; she remembers what life was like before and how the US changed. Much like the political apathy of today, most people in the US just slept or shrugged their shoulders, convinced that their world would go back to normal soon enough. By then, it was too late. Atwood's way of drawing out Offred's emotions, of putting visuals and sensations captivated me. I couldn't put this book down it was that addictive. I really felt what Offred was feeling and I understood why and how she came to be what she was. I only hope that the ending is what I believe....more info
  • A warning to us all
    Margaret Atwood, in this beautifully written but incredibly disturbing fictional novel, describes what could happen if religion gains too much power, and what society could become if women's rights are not protected.

    The story is set in the United States in the near future. A brutal attack has left all members of Congress dead and the country has collapsed into civil war. A section of the United States, governed by religious fundamentalists, becomes a totalitarian state called the Republic of Gilead. The Constitution is suspended; civil liberties and freedoms are dissolved; the death penalty is instituted for dissidents, homosexuals, and non-Christians; and women loose the right to work and earn money.

    Radiation poisoning from the war has resulted in almost all women becoming infertile. Those few in Gilead who can still bear children are forced to become Handmaids, surrogate mothers for infertile couples. The book takes the form of a personal diary belonging to a Handmaid named Offred, who is commissioned to the house of a Gileadean commander, and whose sole purpose is to routinely copulate with him in order to bear a child for his infertile wife. Using this as the basis of the story allows Atwood to address the conservative, traditional and sometimes religious belief that the only purpose of a woman is to bear children. In Offred's own words:

    "We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices." Pg136.

    and

    "What we prayed for was emptiness, so we would be worthy to be filled: with grace, with love, with self-denial, semen and babies." Pg 194.

    Offred takes the reader through her many trials as she struggles to come to terms with her place in a suppressive and legalistic society. The story frequently flashes back to Offred's memories of her life before the war, when she had her own job, money, a loving husband and a young daughter. This dualistic nature of the story provides the reader with a comparison between two societies: one where women have choice and the other where women have little or no choice at all.

    This is a dystopian novel, and through it Atwood provides a warning of what could happen if religion becomes the ultimate law of the land, and if women are no longer free to make their own decisions, especially regarding sexuality and reproduction....more info
  • More And More Possible
    This book has gotten less funny, and more scary, with every year as the world changes to come more in line with its "what if" scenario. It's a brilliant work, by far my favorite of Atwood's books.

    More than a commentary, it's populated with real people who seem to be living very real lives. It's easy to imagine yourself in this world as you read it. Wonderful/scary....more info
  • Haunting
    I suspect that this book was a chilling read when it was published in the 1980's, but it is especially disturbing in 2008. The threats Atwood identified then-- religious fundamentalism, an environmental apocalypse, spying and terror committed by governments, increasing control over women's bodies-- seem even more pertinent today. Atwood's humor keeps the book from ever becoming too bleak....more info
  • I can't praise it enough
    This was a very unique and interesting story. It's a dark theme with some very dark moments, but it also opens one's eyes. It definitely has a feminist philosophy slant- but I like that. The book left me wanting to know more- I wanted to know what happened to the character and to society next, but that was supposed to be left to the imagination, I'm sure.

    This is not your regular novel and I would not tread lightly into it. It's philosophical content does not make for light reading. It also isn't uplifting or "feel good". But it is a story which will make you think.

    Don't let the negative reviews scare you off. The grammar isn't as tough as Joyce Carol Oates, and I followed the story easily.

    This book got me through the Bar Exam....more info
  • Wow.
    She really is a great writer. I really enjoyed this haunting novel of the future. Written in 1985 - it had many points that made it seem shocking to read today (from the terrorists to the return to the religious right) in its predictions. The end was, I suppose, slightly uplifting, but all in all, it was a truly depressing, but a great read....more info
  • Boorish, offensive, politically correct, a waste of time
    Perhaps the worst book I've ever read. Don't waste your time.

    Criticisms of the book fall into these three categories:

    1) It is boorish, vulgar, and obscene.
    2) It is poorly written. It's not great, or even good literature.
    3) It is politically correct, agenda driven literature, with a preposterous plot.

    Boorish, obscene, poorly written

    Amazon asks reviewers not to use distasteful, vulgar or obscene selections from the book when reviewing a book. Therefore, these quotes are not included in this review. You will have to search elsewhere for examples of these quotes. Nor is one supposed to direct you to the sites, so this information is not provided either. Suffice it to say there is much vulgarity and sexually sadistic imagery, and that this is one of the major problems with the book.

    Poorly written

    Apart from its boorishness, one can make these observations about the writing: The novel feels contrived throughout; it is a paint-by-the-numbers dystopian fantasy. The characters are undeveloped and poorly defined; one doesn't really care what happens to any of them. There is no suspense. There is glacial movement to the so-called plot. All the sexual relationships in the book involve dominating or using another person: there is no genuine love. The author has the most annoying habit of using commas and periods incessantly. It is so boring! When the author writes on page 267 "...I keep going on with this sad and hungry and sordid, this limping and mutilated story... after all you've been through, you deserve all I have left, which is not much..." she is telling the truth! It is the literary equivalent of listening to the drone of a bagpipe with no accompanying melody.

    Politically correct, agenda driven literature

    The book is about a future takeover of the U. S. Government by the "religious right" and the imposition of a totalitarian regime. It's pathologically anti-Christian, "Christo-phobic" one might say.

    The regime lynches abortionists, homosexuals and pornographers. Women can't own property, read, or receive an education. They are only valued for their ability to bear children. For some unexplained reason, most women are infertile. The men with the power, the Commanders, are given "handmaids" (fertile women dressed in nun's habits). A commander, after reading from the Bible and praying to God for help, ceremonially rapes his handmaid, in hopes that she will "bear fruit."

    The author's anti-Christian animus becomes clearer if one adapts the plot:

    In this version, the United States is taken over by a phallic cult of male homosexuals who have moved up the ranks of the military. Young pubescent men are held captive, and ceremonially raped by their masters. Catholic priests and pastors who speak out against this are lynched with the verse of Romans 1:27 pinned to their chests.

    Wouldn't this adaptation of the book be considered "homophobic"? So too is this book Christophobic.

    When one considers that the Godless totalitarian regimes of Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot murdered well over 100 million people in the last century, and the continuing forced abortions in China in this century, one has question the rationality of the author's morbid fears of a "takeover" by the religious right. But it is this politically correct agenda, and not the book's literary value, that explains its appeal to leftist intellectuals:

    "Among the many third-rate books that English professors waste their students' time on (when they could be teaching truly great English Literature) is Margaret Atwood's 1986 The Handmaid's Tale... The Handmaid's Tale is the quintessential expression of our intellectuals' fears of what a truly Christian culture would look like." (From The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, by Elizabeth Kantor, Ph.D., p. 27)

    Reading this book is a terrible waste of time. It brings to mind the sign at the beginning of Gone with the Wind: "Do not squander time; it is the stuff life is made of." If you want to read a good "dystopian" novel, try Brave New World. It portrays a society in which people are controlled via sexual and drug induced pleasure instead of brute force, and people's thinking is kept on a material plane by depriving them of "pornography" such as the Bible and the Imitation of Christ. Or read something by someone who's lived in a totalitarian state, such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, or The Gulag Archipelago. Or one might read The Canterbury Tales, for an idea of what it might have been like to have lived in a more genuinely Christian time.
    ...more info
  • The Handmaid's Tale, a Unique Book
    The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, is a unique book. Even though it was written over thirty years ago, the politics come through to me as very similar to some of the world's current governments. It is a hugely realistic fantasy book, one that has parts I can see coming true very soon. Margart Atwood's descriptions gave me a detailed picture of the hard, limited, and completely controlled world in which Offred lived in. The way she told her story made me think that she had so much spirit in her life before she became a handmaid, and to read the descriptions of her life made me think, "Oh yeah, I do that." Or, "I dress like that all the time." Things that we take for granted were things of the past in this book. The descriptions of places, however ordinary, were rich and detailed. I loved how towards the end of the book, the reader gets more of her story, and the whole thing gets involved and complicated, at least compared to Offred's life earlier in the book.
    I would recommend this book to people who like almost disturbingly real novels, suspense, or science fiction. This would also be a good book for people who enjoyed The Giver, but The Handmaid's Tale is much more advanced, and is probably not suitable for people under 12. ...more info
  • I'm becoming an Atwood fan
    If you haven't read an Atwood book, I suggest you pick one up ASAP. Her books are amazingly well written. She tells the story in a way that keeps you wondering throughout and wanting to get to the end so you know everything. She tells you a little bit at a time, with only some of the details in the beginning so you have to wonder what happened in the world she's created.

    In this story, men have taken over the United States and taken away all women's rights. They've also invoked the law of Rachel and Leah, which comes from the Bible, in which Rachel could not have children so she asked her husband to sleep with the handmaid so they could have a child of their own. The men in the book warp this bible reference to mean that it is women who are barren, not men who are sterile. If their wife cannot have children, not tests are done, it is assumed that the woman is the problem and the couple is given a handmaid for two years. If the handmaid does not become pregnant after being stationed with three different couples she is killed.

    The book shows what it would be like if women's rights were taken away. It shows how people can be forced to believe in anything if there is enough fear. And it shows that there will always be a small few who are willing to risk their lives to change the status quo. It's an interesting tale and I especially loved the historical afterword.
    ...more info
  • good book
    i thought that the book was in good shape, it didnt have so many pen marking, it was in good condition. i would have like if the book came soon though....more info
  • Why did I wait so long to read this?
    I usually don't care for these bleak, dystopian, post-apocalyptic novels because they just depress the hell out of me, but this book was outstanding. Although nothing much really happens in the first few chapters, the tension is palpable and conflict builds on every page, and there are smart little touches to Atwood's world that just add to the verisimilitude. I don't know if it's because I read Girl With a Pearl Earring first, but I was constantly reminded of that book because of the relationships between both girls, the respective masters of their houses, and the jealous and thwarted wives. This book is far superior however, and I understand how such a novel either made or cemented Atwood's reputation. On a side note, this book was banned in high schools in my area (I live in San Antonio) and students protested to have the book reinserted into the curriculum. I think this novel is far more valid as a cautionary tale these days than is 1984 or Brave New World, simply because of the religious fanaticism behind the new state, but it is sexually frank in a way that would make me a little uncomfortable with it being required as part of a reading list. Perhaps I am underestimating the maturity of high school students, however. ...more info
  • disturbingly fascinating
    This futuristic dystopian tale stems directly from the imagination of Margaret Atwood, as it hits on absurdities which have not yet been witnessed in this world. It takes Rachel Carson's theories of the effects of mass pollution to a whole other level as women everywhere become sterile, all except a few who are turned into "handmaids." Handmaids are fertile women who have been assigned to various high rank couples. The job of handmaids is one thing and one thing only: to get impregnated with the Commander's child, which she will have to give up later on. Consequently, women in general are stripped of their rights. This is especially evident when the first action the new oppressive government takes is to cancel the bank accounts of all women, rendering them as the property of men. In a world controlled by a few aristocratic men, the women are made to turn against each other to fight for their own survival. Wives willingly exercise their power over the handmaids and even Marthas have initiative over the handmaids. Or at least that is that the men intend. However, many females have formed secret relationships and connections, ones that help them to get through the ordeal mentally. Since their bodies are now considered objects of possession, their only escape is inward into their own minds, where they can concoct possibilities and keep their hopes alive. Essentially, those beaten to the point of submission are forced into a state of numbness, in which they learn to not feel and keep living through it.

    The story, told through the character of Offred, tends to be confusing at times as the plot is narrated in a jumbled and chaotic manner that mirrors the feelings of the narrator. Readers must be ready to actively read and connect certain details with others in order to reach a more unified plot. The underlying connections in the book can only be reached when one is willing to dive headfirst into the novel and sympathize with Offred. The fact that the made-up world is one in which none of us have encountered makes the story much more unpredictable and surprising. The beginning was almost unbearable for me as a struggled to understand what was going on. Despite the initial blandness, the book gradually warms up until it cuts off in an abrupt ending. Offred's simple language demonstrates a very personal and casual tone, which is reasonable enough since these are her thoughts that have been kept inside of her for so long. She longs for an outlet in which to exercise her power of expression. As one will soon realize, The Handmaid's Tale capitalizes on the individual's freedom of expression and how the presence of inner hope can sustain a person a long way. Don't be mistaken though, Offred is by no means an active and dynamic character. Her passivity and inability to live up to the characteristics of everyone's "ideal main character" gets more than annoying sometimes. All she ever does is dream of escape, but never does she take a step toward actual liberty. Offred is at a point where she views coping and endurance as her only hope. Regardless, she does elicit struggle and desperation, both common qualities of the regular human being.

    The Handmaid's Tale serves as a possible harbinger of what may occur in the near future. It opens us to the great many possibilities and downfalls that humans are still prone to. It emphasizes human's natural instinct for survival and human's natural instinct to indulge until there is no more and to indulge even when times are tough. To read it is to question whether humans have really reached a state of superiority over other animals. Have we really come that far? What prevents us from falling backwards?
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  • Interesting but...
    It was very well written, with imagery so vivid that it was at times disturbing. However, the ending ruined the entire book for me. I had never read anything by Atwood before, and I never will again. What a letdown!...more info
  • Disappointed
    This book came highly recommended from friends and family. I must be the black sheep because it did nothing for me (well - it did annoy me a lot). I disagree with many of the negative comments - I simply do not care if it's anti-Christian (it's anti-fundamentalist, and if Christians automatically assume she's refering to Christianity alone, if that's how her depiction of this fictional society immediately says "Christianity" to you, you might want to do a little soul searching on your choice of religion). I dislike this book because the plot alone is so overdone and cliched (Orwell did it much better and with greater and quieter horror implicit in the plot). Atwood seems to think we need to be hit over the head with her point that fundamentalists in Western society (especially the U.S.) attribute every disaster to us just not being Right With God, and the solution to life's iniquities and tragedies is a return to the era of extreme religious control of society. I actually agree with her view, but the book is just too literal - the "mating" scene (as I call it) with handmaiden, husband and wife screams "Oh my god, isn't this AWFUL?". Yeah, if I cared anything about the 2 dimensional characters, it would be. The evil are evil, the good are dull, and both extremes have no subtlety. It's also predictable and not very original premise that the sexually repressed think of little other than sex, and those that aren't having sex are a pretty surly bunch. The writing is self-conscious and the ending is so lame (forgive me, but it is the word that comes to mind -imagine it with all the condescending distain of a 15 year old). Unfortunately, it has prevented me from reading anything else by Atwood. I shouldn't allow it, but I don't think I could approach her work without trying to find fault with it. ...more info
  • My only objection
    My only objection to the story was how the Handmaidens were treated especially after giving birth. In any given society a good breeding animal is given most excellent care. They are very valuable and would be treated as such. They would be fed and excercised well and their wellbeing would be looked to with medical care that would prepare them for future breeding....more info
  • Not Realistic Enough to be Scary
    The time in the book is more or less now--but a now if things had gone horribly wrong a few years ago. The narrator, a woman in her thirties, used to have a successful career. Shortly after college she started dating a married man, who then divorced his wife and married her. The two of them had a daughter together and were happy. They were aware of some troublesome things--there was a toxic waste problem, and reduced childbirth rates, possibly due to sterility caused by the toxic waste. Life was still livable, though. Then the country fell apart. The president was gunned down, as were all other top-level government officials. Those now in charge decided to go back to the Bible for advice on how to live.

    The first changes happen together--women are no longer allowed to work or to own anything, including money. The narrator finds her bank account frozen and herself without a job. Bigger trouble seems to be looming on the horizon, so she and her husband decide to escape with their five-year-old daughter before things get any worse. Their plan seems foolproof, but something terrible happens. Instead of escaping across the border, they are caught. The narrator loses her husband and doesn't know if he has been killed or arrested. She and her daughter run for it, but then her daughter is taken from her, to be raised by a suitable family. The new government does not recognize divorce and has dissolved all second marriages and taken away the resultant children.

    The narrator is lucky, because she still has a viable reproductive system, a commodity truly valued by the new government. This fact saves her from being labeled an "Unwoman" and sent to work the fatal job of cleaning up toxic waste. Everyone is desperate for healthy children. She and many other women like her are sent to live in a sort of brainwashing center, where they are taught that they are nothing but wombs to be filled with the babies of those more worthy, the children of Commanders and their Wives. When an important couple is unable to have children, they will be assigned one of these women, a Handmaid, who will live with them, meekly and silently. The Handmaid, who is not allowed to converse with others, to read or to do anything without permission, will be permitted out of the house to do the grocery shopping every day, where she will be paired with another Handmaid who will presumably tattle on her if anything inappropriate happens. The Handmaids wear long red dresses and head coverings with blinders to prevent them from looking around. Once a month an elaborate ceremony is performed, culminating in a weird sexual act involving the Commander, his Wife, and the Handmaid.

    Such is life for this narrator, who is currently assigned to a Commander named Fred and is therefore called Offred, as she is considered his property. She is told that in a couple of generations things will have worked out and Wives will no longer be jealous and resentful of Handmaids. She is told she will get used to her life, her solitude, her newly reduced place in society. But she dreams of freedom, of escape, of her husband and her daughter and of the million things she should have been grateful for before she was made into a sex slave.

    There were a lot of things I really liked about this book. The attention to detail was admirable; I felt like I knew the characters and had a good grasp of the rules of this society. I could understand how the words of the Bible could have been twisted around to make such a society possible, and I could see how people were controlled by this new government. The story was poetic, the thinking of the narrator beautiful and heartbreaking. I liked the ambiguous ending and wish she'd left it at that, instead of adding the horrible "Historical Notes" to attempt to clear up the story. There are much better ways to do so, although I don't think in this case it was necessary.

    However, there was one major problem with this book. Nobody was benefitting from the new system of government. Women were certainly not benefitting. Everyone, from the Wives, to the servants, to the Handmaids, was miserable and resentful of the others for some reason. In any situation in which one group of people is exploited or marginalized, there is generally some corruption at the top layers of social heirarchy and someone is getting something out of the deal. In this story, it seems that men ought to be getting something out of allowing women to be treated as objects and property.

    Even the men in this story, though, who are sneered at and villainized by the author, are living miserable lives. They have to wait to be assigned a Wife and they have no choice about who she is. Perhaps many years later if they are unable to have a child, the couple may be assigned a Handmaid. It seems that this would be a reward--one man allowed two women with whom to have sex! However, the sex is so regimented and scheduled that it has been stripped of all of its passion and excitement. Even in a time when things are so backward that men would not want women to be able to read or to carry on a conversation with them as equals, I'd bet they wouldn't be in favor of these new rules about sex.

    So, although there were a great deal of things about this book that touched me and made me think, I found it simply unbelievable that anyone, male or female, would have tolerated this social system for very long....more info
  • A Great Read
    I've just read this again after about fifteen years since my first reading. This time round I am more aware of the upsurge in religious fundamentalism in the real world and so there are elements within the story that are not so unbelievable. Some women in Iran and Afghanistan for example have experienced a change from relative western-type freedom to being covered and kept at home as mothers exclusively. It would be foolish to assume that any society is totaly safe from such revolutions.

    In 'The Handmaids Tale' the revolution seems to have been brought about, at least in part, by widespread infertility caused by nuclear accidents, various pollutants and toxic waste. Only some women are fertile and are used by certain high-class couples for producing children. One passage that stood out for me this time round was the Japanese tourists, the women in short skirts, asking to take photogaraphs of the handmaids and enquiring through an interpreter about the handmaids happiness etc. The 'modern', 'normal' world is still going on outside of 'Gilead' - not totally unlike the contrasts between some societies around the world today but here it is the US that has flipped.

    All futuristic fiction makes us ask questions about the worlds and lifestyles we tend to take for granted and this is a large part of its attraction but it works best when it also is a great read. 'The Handmaid's Tale' is certainly a great read....more info
  • Horrible
    This boook was just horrid. I will admit that it was well written, but it is not meant for high school students to read. I am a Junior and I was required to read it for my Honors English class and it was just too crude. It talks a lot about sex and is just too harsh for young ears or for any ears really. It seems as if all our culture revolves around anymore is sex and having a Junior English class read it just validates that statement further. If you want to crowd your mind with pornography related scenes and just plain filth then read it, but I advise you not to and to not recommend it to anyone else....more info
  • Living within the Embryo of a Dystopia
    Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale knows no boundaries taking the suppression of woman as sex slaves to the extremity of reproductive Handmaids. Dictated by the totalitarian Republic of Gilead, Atwood's Ofglen restricts the readers to sympathize with her struggles and concerns with reoccurring flashbacks to her lost identity amidst the constant turmoil of her role as Handmaid. Her internal conflicts dealing with her resignation within the dystopia is further enhanced by her willpower and determination to escape.

    Masterfully plotted, symbolically insinuated, The Handmaid's Tale evokes a sense of hope and liberation through the drastic turn of events by juxtaposing the confines to which Ofglen is valued based on the functionality of her uterus. Through constrained and controlled diction, Atwood forces the readers to experience Ofglen's perspective limiting them to seeing the Republic in a disjointed narrative. Provoking senses of regret, lust, and longing, Atwood stresses the depressing and heartbreaking position in which Ofglen is condemned to. Love is forbidden to her, simple pleasures are refused to her, and all she can do is wait, wait for her impregnation by a man she doesn't even love nor care for. Ofglen is truly a tragic character, yet her resigned attitude in the beginning makes the conclusion even more riveting and climatic. Leaving her fate as ambiguous stresses Ofglen's escape of a past she has no place in and Ofglen's embrace of a future she is unconsciously willing to pursue. Eliciting finality, Atwood's emphasizes Ofglen's willingness to accept her fate of a new beginning or end. She knows no fear but rather clenches onto hope as she is carried off in the black van.

    Inciting rage, frustration, sympathy, and relief, Atwood's Handmaid's Tale monumentally constructs a thought-provoking account that is both intriguing and all-too realistic. Her syntax blossoms the barren and fruitful emotions that consumes Ofglen; in addition to the constant strife of self-identity. Throughout the novel, Atwood builds upon the multi-faceted persona of Ofglen, unfolding her identity bit by bit. This novel both mentally and psychologically stimulates the readers to feel for Ofglen and her subservient role.

    The Handmaid's tale brilliantly encapsulates an array of emotional turmoil, leaving an aftertaste of satisfaction and completion in the conclusion. This book displays the true ingenuity of Atwood and her stylistically engaging syntax, allowing the plot to bloom into a novel of hope and acceptance; truly an embryonic gem within a dystopia collection.
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