NEHS January Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


Today, we, as Americans, prize the idea of freedom, with the ability to say what we want and do what we want. But what if, one day, freedom was stripped from our hands?  As another rendition of a dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood conjures a new twist to the future of American society, one in which men rule and women serve.

What appears to be a basic plotline offers an intriguing alteration; while Atwood provides the general idea of women as slaves in society, she emphasizes it to a greater extent. In the Republic of Gilead, a theocratic state which has replaced the United States, women are essentially objects to men. Offred, the main character, is labeled as a Handmaid and essentially lives an awful existence of reproducing babies for The Commander and his wife. Women have become commodities, used as vessels to reproduce in a world where women are slowly becoming infertile, and they are stripped from their most basic human rights. Handmaids are not allowed to read books, converse with other women, and, most importantly, encounter other men. Their one job in life is to reproduce as many babies as possible.

Throughout the novel, we slowly learn about Offred’s life and the regulations of the Republic of Gilead, with each chapter revealing more and more about the unethical rule of this overpowering society. Atwood uses exceptional imagery to capture the reader to a point where you feel as if you are trapped in Offred’s room and feel imprisoned in the city of Gilead. It seems highly unlikely that we would one day turn women into reproductive machines and ruin the equality of our country, yet Atwood provides a prophetic insight that allows readers to realize that freedom is truly a privilege, one to cherish and fight for.

The Handmaid’s Tale satirizes the harsh reality of Americans in the future, yet it is completely plausible. I may not want to live in Atwood’s fictional world, but her dystopian novel and beautiful prose captures the interest of the reader from the very first page all the way up to the last, which—I have to say—is one of the most surprising cliffhangers I have ever read. If you want to be left in awe and shock, this novel is surely a memorable book to read.