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Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (4/5)

5 Jan

This book was one of those happy circumstances where I wanted to read the book and it appeared on a book club list. I swear, this is like winning the book-nerd lottery.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Summary from Goodreads:

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

Talk about creepy. This book is a worst-case scenario for a lot of political problems that faced Western culture when it was originally published and continue to influence political decisions today. This touched on women in power, abortion, religion, government control, capital punishment, and tons of other things I’m forgetting now. Atwood did a great job of telling the reader enough about the world Offred lived in without telling you too much. It was good to be kept as far at bay as Offred from the truth but it was good to know as much as she did about the situation.

It’s hard to say if the characters were realistically portrayed because there’s no comparable circumstance I can imagine to what the characters went through. I think that I would react in a similar way if I was ever thrown into that situation, but it’s hard to say. How would you feel if you were taken away from your husband and family and forced to try to give birth to another man’s child while his wife watched? How would it feel to have all of your rights stripped away and have no one to talk to about what you’re going through? There’s no way to know how I’d react, but I think I would feel a lot like Offred. She was afraid to rebel, but saw no other way forward.

Nick was my favorite character. He seemed simple enough, but for that reason alone, I thought there was more to him. He had to sit by and be an aid to Fred sneaking around with Offred and to Offred getting pregnant by any means possible. He played both sides and I loved that he was playing a third side (and even a fourth!) the whole time. I liked his ‘relationship’ with Offred, whatever you could call that. He was much more complex than he seemed on thee surface and I enjoyed all parts of the story that he appeared in.

I think of all the characters, I related best to Nick. He was trying to please everyone and still be true to himself. The other characters did have many qualities that I could relate to. Serena was out for herself, Fred had a mix of loyalties between his government and himself, and Offred only wanted her daughter. So Nick was the only one I felt was trying to help anyone around him and the only one I could relate to.

Margaret Atwood Image from

Margaret Atwood
Image from

I liked the section where the Commander took Offred to the Jezebeles. It was good to see a thriving sub-culture where you knew one must be. There’s no way a cultural shift like the one described could happen uncontested. It made the book less upsetting to me to know that people were still themselves, no matter how oppressed their government had made them.

I felt like this book dragged a bit at the beginning. I can’t really put my finger on where it did this, but the pace at the beginning was good because it made me ask questions and continue reading to find out what the heck was going on. And the end was very quick-moving and had me rushing to see what happened to Offred with all the rules she was breaking, but somewhere in the middle it was slow and lost my interest a bit.

There are so many messages in this book that it’s hard to put my finger on one. I’ll focus on the oppression of women. The handmaid’s might be the most oppressed in terms of the government, but I think all women in this book, the Econowives, the Jezebeles, the Wives, the Daughters, and the Marthas, were all incredibly oppressed. All the ‘freedoms’ they were given were only freedoms in the new world. The Wives could have gardens and that was a privileged. The Handmaid’s were allowed to do the shopping and leave the premises. I became very aware of all the freedoms I take for granted like being able to drive and wear what I want and I know that women in all parts of this world don’t have those freedoms and I should be glad for the freedoms I do have because there might be someone somewhere who fought long and hard just to have a garden.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think my favorite writing trick Atwood used was the historical note at the end. Our book club coordinator sent a note to make sure we all read it because it wasn’t instantly obvious that this was part of the story and not a historical note about the accuracy of the facts found in the story. I liked how she made the reader instantly distrust the narrator and brought to the forefront the danger that the Handmaid had been placed in to do what she did and how her fate is unknown. I really loved this as an ending.

Great story even though it dragged a bit. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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