This is the very first Atwood Book I have ever read. I chose this one for the New Notions Challenge. Apparently this novel was made into a movie back in the 1990s. I think I'd like to see it.
The one thing I didnt like was the lack of personal details. The main character in this novel is called Offred after the patriarch (Commander Fred) to whom she currently belongs. She is a Handmaiden - her job is to be fertile, and bear children. We never find out her real name. Although we do know she was married to Luke in the "before time". With Luke, she already has one daughter. The daughter was given to another childless family. Offred also never states her daughters name either.
The patriarch (Fred) has already had 2 handmaids before Offred arrived. All handmaids stay at each location for two years during which they must be legally raped once a month (called the Ceremony) in front of several witnesses, and she has two years to become pregnant. The previous two handmaids, one of whom hung herself, did not become pregnant. If you do not become pregnant, then you are considered an Unwoman and sent to the colonies or to the whore house (where the Jezebels live).
It is always assumed that any lack of pregnancy is the girls fault - never the mans. The man is NEVER allowed to be tested or proved as being sterile, whether or not he is.
Fred's wife Serena Joy, asks Offred to lie with Nick, the chauffeur, and perhaps become pregnant that way. Serena belives that Fred is sterile. She badly wants a baby. Offred does what she is told - to refuse can be dangerous - although we do not know if she becomes pregnant or not.
The book ends very abruptly when a black van comes to take Offred away. Nick tells her its ok, they are from the resistance, they will help her to escape. But we know nothing for sure, except that she went somewhere where she had time to tell her story onto 30 audio cassette tapes.
Movie - The Handmaiden's Tale starring Natasha Richardson as Offred.
This book is about legalized rape and about men being in control, more than anything else. Control the women and dont allow them to think for themselves or learn anything independently. Cut them off from everyone else, change their names and split up the families - especially where a second marriage is involved.
The whole idea was to take society back to Biblical, Old Testament Times, and literally follow the rules set out in the first 5 books of Moses. Where it says that the family patriarch can use a handmaid to have a child if the legal wife cant have any.
Anyone who opposes the system is hung up by the neck. Any female caught reading will be hung. Any female accused of being a traitor or a resistor is hung.
If I were to ever find myself being treated like I was an ignorant female, I would want to kill myself. I have a very active brain, I love reading, and I could no6t stand to live in any society with such strict rules. Especially one where women are treated as nothing more than brood mares.
In any case, I would end up being an "Unwoman" since my reproductive system is already in bad shape. I was very lucky to be able to have even 1 child. So I would have the choice, to become a whore, (called Jezebels) or be sent to the colonies (where the toxic waste levels do eventually kill you).
The horrifying thing is that some parts of this novel are already happening for real. Where the church and state are no longer separate, and abortion is now (sort of) illegal again, and anyone who opposes the current system (or follows the wrong religion) is held as a "possible suspect" without trial.
More Info on this book
Study Guide to The Handmaids Tale
Another study guide to The Handmaids Tale