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The Handmaid's Tale (Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1)
The Handmaid's Tale - Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1
Author: Margaret Atwood
In the world of the near future, who will control women's bodies? — 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 th...  more »
ISBN-13: 9780385490818
ISBN-10: 038549081X
Publication Date: 3/16/1998
Pages: 311
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.

4.1 stars, based on 811 ratings
Publisher: Anchor Books
Book Type: Paperback
Other Versions: Hardcover
Members Wishing: 0
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

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reviewed The Handmaid's Tale (Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1) on + 6 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 29
Published in 1986, this book has the profound ring of George Orwell's 1984. Perhaps the era called out to Ms. Atwood. I don't know. But her tale is only a little less grim than Orwell's.

The Handmaid's Tale is the story of Offred (short for Handmaid of Fred). Separated from her identity, child, husband, and all connection to her past life, Offred has but one purpose in life -- to have a baby. She is a lady assigned to a high-ranking official's house. His wife is childless, so Offred's job is to bear a child by him. This is her only function in the household.

In her time and community, anyone who deviates from the society's doctrine is tortured, publicly killed, and left on "the Wall" for all to see. Most women have no names, no rights. It is illegal for them to read. Divorce is impossible, as is running away, since security checkpoints are instated for just the purpose of ensuring everyone stays just where they're supposed to.

Offred spends her time reminiscing about her past life when she had a career, friends, a husband, and a daughter. She imagines all of the possible fates of her loved ones and dreads her own.

Her character is not particularly brave or intelligent. She is not a heroine who will rise above this situation with little effort. One can imagine that she is at least an ordinary woman with strong feelings, not the least of which is fear -- fear of pain, of loneliness, and of death.

The society and its ways reveal themselves slowly. The narrator seems to assume that no explanation is necessary. This is a strong point for the book, which does not insult the intelligence of the reader, but leaves it to him/her to determine certain facts and draw certain conclusions on their own. It reminds me of The Giver also, as it reveals slowly such truths that the narrator seems sometimes to take for granted. Such truths sometime change the way you see other events from earlier in the novel. It's strongly written.

Also, for James Joyce lovers, there is the sense of stream of consciousness. Later, in the Epilogue, we find out just why it seems that way. In the meantime, you feel as if you're wandering through the thoughts of a woman desperately trying to hold her sanity together. It makes me think of the women in Afghanistan when the Taliban was in charge. Educated women were forbidden from working anymore and needed a man to conduct any business for them. There are similar echoes here.

Except that it is not radical Islam that plays a central villainous role. It is Christian extremism which preaches that the woman is subservient to the man, that divorce is adultery and punishable by death, and that anyone who does not follow "the way" is a sinner who must be harshly and swiftly punished.

The tale is rooted in fear. What could happen in a society consumed by such fear of each other, of the government, of outsiders? Margret Atwood centers her story on the females and what the regime does to them. But there are inklings that many males also suffer -- particularly those who are not well off or influential.

It's a good book -- about 300 pages and a real page turner. Very suspenseful. But difficult to read. So many things in it are quite appalling. It will get you thinking, though, about extreme Christian movements and what might happen if people without the purest intentions found their way into power and began using religion as a weapon. I don't think that this could actually happen (optimist that I am) in the US in my lifetime, because I believe that people are inherently good. But then, it happened in Afghanistan, didn't it?
nantuckerin avatar reviewed The Handmaid's Tale (Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1) on + 158 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 19
I am a serial re-reader -- If a book really gets stuck in my head, I revisit it like an old friend over and over again. I may read it from cover to cover or only spend time getting reaquainted with my favorite parts of the story. That said, I've read The Handmaid's Tale at least 10 times -- and counting. I love dystopian literature, and this is one of the best in my opinion.

The novel tells the tale of the heroine Offred (not her real name -- in Atwood's future, women are addressed by an explanation of who they belong to, i.e., "Of Fred.")Society has crumbled, and some unexplained global tragedy has occurred leaving most women sterile. Those who can still conceive -- the Handmaids -- are forced to bear children for those who can afford it, society families, military men and those in good standing with the new uber-spooky government. Big Brother is hard at work in this book, which still terrifies me every time I read it. One of my Top 20 books without a doubt. Just writing this review makes me want to pick it up and begin the story all over again. [close]
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale (Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1) on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 6
This would make an excellent book club book. Great fodder for discussions. It was a very bizarre book, but a bit too sci-fi for me. I also felt the ending left too many questions unanswered.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale (Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1) on + 13 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 6
Very interesting. A nightmarish projection of the future and a harsh analysis and critique of women's traditional roles. Rich with suspense and emotion.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale (Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1) on + 9 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
Haunting tale of the horrors of gender roles in a futuristic society.
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flyinggems avatar reviewed The Handmaid's Tale (Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1) on + 425 more book reviews
This book was very hard to read. The story idea is interesting but the author's telling of it is choppy and does not flow.

I wish I gave up reading it but once I got past 100 pages, I stayed to the end.
perryfran avatar reviewed The Handmaid's Tale (Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1) on + 1156 more book reviews
The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel, first published in 1985. It is set in the near-future USA, somewhere in New England on what was formerly a university campus. The narrator is called Offred, which means she is the Handmaid or surrogate wife/mother of a Commander in the society named Fred. Offred shows us the state of the world by various flashbacks to her former life before the US became the Republic of Gilead. In this society, women cannot have jobs or money. They are assigned to various classes which include the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids who turn their offspring over to the Wives. There are also the Aunts who teach the Handmaids and who provide harsh punishment for anyone getting out of line. Offred longs to go back to her life before Gilead and wonders what became of her husband and young daughter. She becomes complicit in discussions with another Handmaid who may have a link to an underground where escape may be possible. There are also the Guards, men who act as eyes for the Commanders and there are frequent public executions with offenders hung from hooks on the wall around the compound.

This was really a scary and horrific novel that gives a very unpleasant glimpse of what could possibly happen if freedoms are eroded. Although this was written in the 80s and is somewhat dated, some of the scenarios seem to fit very well with some of the happenings in the world today; especially some of the far right beliefs that seem to want to limit the rights of women. I know that this novel has been adapted for television in a series on Hulu (which I have not watched) and Atwood has also written a recent sequel to this titled The Testaments. I may seek out the TV series and read the sequel at some point but this original novel is really a classic dystopian novel and should be included with such works as 1984 and Brave New World.
22chickens avatar reviewed The Handmaid's Tale (Handmaid's Tale, Bk 1) on + 11 more book reviews
Amazing. Brilliant. I love this book.