When I first came across this book, I didn’t bother to read the synopsis, assuming it would be a medieval tale of some sort (the illustration on the cover made me think so, the word “handmaid” helped as well); something I would enjoy, but nothing “special” I should consider reading as soon as possible, until I began to read about the TV series and the actual plot of the book. I found a medieval tale, yes, but not the kind I expected.
Offred (meaning “Of Fred”, the name of the man who owns her) is the narrator of her own tale, a story of a country that turned itself from a so called democracy into a patriarchal dictatorship in which a few privileged people live more or less as the time before, whereas the rest serve them. For the women this means they have to provide healthy children for the regime, but not freely with their husbands, but submitted to their owners and separated from their families. Love is forbidden. Friendship is forbidden. Culture is forbidden for women too. To make things worse, Offred lived in “the time before”, so she had to be reeducated in a special centre to serve to this new society, and she often goes back in time in her narration to talk about the life she had with Luke and their little daughter, her mother, her best friend Moira…
The book addresses the assumption of human adaptability to whatever the circumstances we face. The issue here is that the political environment doesn’t change for the better, for the achieving of more freedom and favorable rights for the people, as we foresee as the path for future generations, but instead it goes for restrictions and terror for the majority of the population. And as the author has said, this idea is not her own, but borrowed from history (nazism, for example). And yet the heroine is not so, in the usual understanding of a character fighting to take her life back, but instead she just goes with the flow, paralyzed by the fear and living the life this new patriarchal elite has decided for her. And that’s what I liked about her because, in my eyes, she is real. I mean, most of us have probably gone to a protest march against any political issue or another, but would you go if you were likely to be imprisoned for life, or even executed? I am sure I wouldn’t, and this fact made me sympathize deeply with Offred.
This is the second book by Margaret Atwood that I read (Cat’s eye was the first), and I have found them very different regarding the plot but with similar characters; both women, both confronting a situation they can’t or don’t know how to face, and both lonely and carrying such sadness over their shoulders.
PS1.: The ending, which will not be discussed here, was absolutely great because it is open to many possibilities.
PS2.: I listened to the audiobook narrated by Claire Danes and she is the protagonist in my mind. I love her, by the way.
The handmaid’s tale