The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret ATwood

Title : The Handmaid's Tale
Author : Margaret Atwood
Publisher : Anchor Books
First Published : 1985
Pages : 311

We are for breeding purposes : we aren't concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary, everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are be no toeholds for love. We are two legged wombs, that's all : sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.

The Republic of Gilead theocracy has taken over the USA government. The severe pollution has made people infertile. To save the population, the government quickly makes new rules and divide the men and women among classes. In this new regime, women have no places. Or rights. Women are banned to read and from being independent.  The fertile women are gathered, brainwashed and then assigned to the men of ruling class for reproductive purposes to increase the population. These women are called handmaids.

In this book, we follow the story of a handmaid called Offred (Of-Fred. Fred is the name of the Commander she’s assigned to. The name means that she is a property of Fred. Her real name was immediately dismissed since the first time she’s assigned as a handmaid and never mentioned in the book). She is the narrator of the story. From Offred’s point of view, we can see the structure of Gilead Republic and her life as a handmaid. The Commander has a wife, her name is Serena Joy. She is assumed to be infertile even though there’s a greater possibility that the Commander is the one who's infertile since Offred is not the first handmaid of the Commander but the Commander remains failed to have a baby. But the patriarchal structure of Gilead Republic doesn’t allow a man to be called infertile so the blame falls on the woman.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now ypu are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it.

Every month, Offred has to attend the “Ceremony” where she has sex with the Commander to serves her main duty as a handmaid.   If she doesn’t get pregnant in a limited time given to her, Offred will be sent to the Colonies, the place for infertile women, the “Gender Traitors”, and the “Unwomen”, to clean the residue of dangerous radioactive material and to die a slow painful death.

During her life as a handmaid, Offred recalls her previous life with her husband, Luke, and also her daughter. she reminisce the days she had being a free women which has long gone now. All she has now is only the frightening picture of society where women being stripped of their rights and power. 

My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love because this is not what he's doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would involve two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it : nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for.

Jesus, this one is scary! This is exactly the worst  nightmare of every women will look like! I mean, women are only valued by the viability of their ovaries and treated as a baby factory! And it just really got on my nerves because all of those twisted stuff they do to women are done in the name of God with specific biblical references to justify their means! I really wanted to puke when I read the Ceremony scene where the Commander engages in the ritualized intercourse with Offred while Offred laying on her back on the lap of the Commander’s wife. I mean, holy mother of God! Visuals! That’s just plain twisted! And look how many exclamation mark I use in this paragraph!

God is a national resource

Now let’s see the division of class in the Gilead society. Men are divided into the following category :

1.       Commander = the highest class in the society and the military leader. They may have a Wife and build a family. If their Wives can’t bear children, they will be assigned a handmaid. Commanders are the only class who own the rights to have a handmaid.

2.       Eyes = the secret agents to search for people who violate the rule of Gilead.

3.       Angels = equivalent with soldier in real life, protecting the national security and go to war.

4.       Guardians = I think it has the same task with police or some sort.
5.       There are also lower class poorer men who don’t have military position and have a regular job.

There’s also an illegitimate category for men called GENDER TRAITORS. Men in this class are homosexuals.

And the followings are the division for women :

1.       Wives = these women are married to the higher level men, so, they are also at the highest social level for women. They wear blue dresses.

2.       Daughters = the children, either natural or adopted, of the higher level functionaries. They wear white dresses and just sit around and look pretty until their marriage.

3.       Aunts = the unmarried women whose job is to re-educate (read : brainwash) the handmaids in training so that they’re able to fully cooperate with their so called “holy” task of producing as much babies as possible. They also fully monitor the handmaids in the Rachel and Leah Center. They wear brown dresses.

4.       Handmaids = They are fertile women whose job is to have children. After several time of training in the Rachel and Leah Center, they will be sent to a high level Commander’s houses to be impregnated. The children they bear will belong to the wives and their husband. They dress in the infamous red color.

5.       Martha =  the infertile, unmarried women whose job is to do the domestic task, like a servant. They wear brown.

6.       Econowives = these women are the wives of lower class men and they perform traditional domestik task for women, like doing house chores.

There are also illegitimate categories for women called the UNWOMEN and JEZEBELS. Unwomen are those who refuse to cooperate with the new social structure of Gilead and tasks that are given to them as a woman. Jezebels are prostitute who work in a secret state-run brothel which only available for higher level men. The unwomen and gender traitors are sent to the Colonies along with the handmaids who fail to bear children in the amount of time given.

The dystopian nature the author created along with the division of class is such a masterpiece I can’t help but wrote down all the class division. It describes perfectly a society with gender-based oppression and Offred’s narration just gives a complete feeling to it. See how the so called pious regime treat people? They scream God’s name and punish women for adultery but still go to brothel at night There’s so much I can learn and analyze from this book but since this is not an academic review, I’m just gonna tell you my experience and feeling reading this book.

At some point, the story becomes less scary and more sad. Especially when  Offred recalls her life before the Gilead regime. She was living with her mother, husband and daughter. She had a job, money, family and freedom. It is painful to know she was happy once until the Gilead regime took over her happiness. You know, it hurts so much to have something then lost it than never have it at all in the first place.

I love how the characters in this book describe how it feels to be in certain class. It’s hard for Offred to be a handmaid, to do crazy things as trying to be pregnant for somebody else, to be look down by other women, to be prisoned by a system.  It’s hard for those who stand for what they believe, for those who choose to challenge Gilead overboard patriarchal system, just like Moira who prefers to choose her own fate rather than submit to the authority. It’s even hard for the Wives. They may be at he top of the society. But in Gilead, they are still women. And women can’t have a job, can’t have a say. Just look at how miserable Serena Joy is, she has to witness her husband have sex with another woman. It’s not in her rights to refuse, she just have to turn a blind eye.

It's not the husband you have to watch for, said Aunt Lydia. It's the Wives. You should try to imagine what they must be feeling. OF course they will resent you. It is only natural.

Actually this book doesn’t have a roller-coastery plot which I want to read in a dystopian novel or what dystopian novels usually serve me. There is no rebelling heroin who just can’t sit around seeing how fucked up her society is. Offred is pretty submissive in my opinion. Every violation of rule she does, it happens because of someone else. It’s understandable actually because Offred as a handmaid is a high asset for Gilead so she’s under surveillance 24/7, and the stakes are just too high for her to abuse anny law. No one in that time wants to go to the colonies. Besides, there’s no room for fighting. You’re trapped! God, it gives me chill again. Even though there’s not much ups and downs while the story progressing, I still find this book interesting, so I can’t stop reading.

This is a great book. The premise got me from the get go. I shivered the whole time while reading this book. This is the kind of book with a theme that will intrigue you so much. I literally prayed to God right after reading this book so this story won’t ever happen to anyone, anywhere. It’s the worst scenario even just to think about. Last but not least, I recommend this book to anyone interested in gender issue, speculative fiction or simply just want to read something so damn disturbing. Happy reading!

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