4 stars · classic · dystopia · fiction

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Pages: [paperback] 311

favorite characters: ofglen & nick


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 fertility, 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…

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.


And just when I thought I was getting used to the creep factor brought on by most dystopian novels, I read this.

Okay, so it could be worse. But not by much. Picturing a society where every woman’s movements are so controlled they’ve had to do their best to make sure there’s no way they can commit suicide, throw in all the forced attempts at pregnancy and tearing apart of families and . . well, I don’t really want to list everything in the novel, but, goodness. Margaret Atwood sure knows how to create the perfect imperfect world. Ha.

While I can definitely appreciate the books that have more symbols and other devices imbedded within the work, The Handmaid’s Tale makes it fairly easy to pick out what’s important and what can be discarded. The narrator herself-and we never learn her true name-comments on how this or that now means something else, and the ironic tones are never left untouched for long. Thank goodness.

Originally, I was disappointed and frustrated with the ending, for reasons I won’t specify for fear of giving anything away. But, thinking back on it now, it’s perfect. I don’t think I’d have wanted it to be any different, if I could change it myself, and after this reflection, I’m glad that I can’t. Score one for Margaret Atwood!

I think what makes this book so appealing, so powerful, is the knowledge that something like this might actually happen. Maybe not exactly this; it’s impossible to predict the future. But it’s easier to take away liberties than to hand them out, and it’s not hard to imagine a world, years from now, with a more controlling government (a more censored internet?) and a whole lot of creepiness. Everywhere. And while dystopian authors might be trying to warn us, or entertain us, or try to prove some other point altogether, I think all that matters is picking up a book (like this: it’s worth it, I swear) and learning something from it. Something positive, hopefully. I don’t want to go around telling people to get bad habits . .

Heh. Like the habits they wear in this book.

Anyway, go read this. Not everyone has a school to force them to, so use that free will of yours, and give into peer pressure. About books like this, at least.


6 thoughts on “The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  1. I came across The Handmaid’s Tale a while back and read the summary. It sounds like an interesting dystopian novel and by your review, I can tell you liked it. Do you think it’s a worthwhile read, despite your initial bad impression of the ending?


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