Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

September 28, 2013 2013, B+, book rating, reviews 0

bannedbooksThe Handmaid’s Tale is frequently on banned or challenged book lists. Rita_h at My Home of Books has posted a challenge about banned books. There is a list of 100 books on her blog and at the American Library Association site (Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009). Today is the last day of Banned Book week for this year. I’m posting my reviews of the two books I finished this week.

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handmaids-taleThe Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Series: None
Genre: Science Fiction Distopian
Published by Random House,1986
Trade paperback, from library
311 pages
Grade: B+
Synopsis: 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…

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I originally read this book over twenty years ago and it was a disturbing book when I originally read it. It’s still a disturbing book…and it’s supposed to be.

What I like about this book:

  • A classic science fiction novel which considers “what if” questions.
  • Most science fiction of this type is somewhat obscure leaving the reader to gradually discover what’s happening and come to their own conclusions. I like that. The reader is treated like a thinking person!
  • A distopian novel before distopian became popular.
  • I like that the ending is somewhat oblique. What happens to Offred is unknown…leaving it to our imagination–however, that’s also something I don’t like…

What I don’t like:

  • I don’t like that the ending is somewhat oblique. When I read books now I like to know what happens. I like a happy ending. However, I recognize The Handmaid’s Tale is a stronger book written as it is.
  • The Republic of Gilead’s administration creates a solution to their problem, but at a terrible cost to women.

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My thoughts: 

This book was written in the 1980’s. Ronald Reagan was president. Christian fundamentalism was on the rise. In the 1960’s Silent Spring by Rachel Carson had shown a link to pesticide and pollution. By the 1970’s the pesticide DDT was banned in the U.S. and other countries. Women were given drugs such as DES to control problems such as miscarriage in pregnancy. However, it was discovered DES didn’t help pregnancies and, in fact, caused cancers in both the mothers and children and could cause fertility problems for both the sons and daughters. Thus, there were many fears about the chemicals which were being used.

Also birth control (“the pill”), abortion and feminism all caused a certain amount of “anti-feminist” activity by some people. By the time this book was written The Equal Rights Amendment had failed to be ratified by 38 states. Conservatives led by Phyllis Schlafly were a major factor in the amendment’s defeat.

When I originally read the book I had no idea it was on banned lists though knowing it is I can see why some people wouldn’t like it and might try to keep others from reading it. The book certainly doesn’t give a favorable view of religion. But books are for widening our horizons and challenging our beliefs. If we can’t read a book without changing the way we believe our beliefs aren’t very strongly held.

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Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? What do you think? Have you read other books which challenge your beliefs?

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