Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Recently, I joined a book club run by one of my best friends which focuses on promoting critical thinking, especially in terms of the political and social issues of today. The book club is called Books for the Resistance.

We kicked-off the book club with a classic: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Published in 1985, this book continues to resonate with every new wave of readers. It’s a striking look at social issues including sexism, reproductive rights, classism, environmental issues, and the sometimes at-odds struggle to feel safe while also feeling free.

The book follows Offred, a so-called Handmaid, who is one of the few women in Gilead (formerly the United States) who is physically capable of bearing children. As a Handmaid, she is assigned to a family-of-sorts, where her sole role is to conceive a child from the Commander. There are few freedoms in Gilead, especially for a Handmaid. Communication with the outside world is controlled by the militant government, and may be entirely propaganda and lies. Societal roles are strict, inspired by Puritan values.

The details of the establishment of Gilead are scarce, told second-hand through Offred. Some details the reader is given include the fact that there was some sort of coup that overthrew the previous government; at one point, all bank accounts belonging to women were frozen, forcing them to depend on the men in their lives; and issues infiltrated society ranging from environmental disasters to a strong cultural shift against sexual and reproductive freedoms.

Is it any wonder this book continues to resonate with people? It takes these issues to the extreme, and forces the reader to take a good hard look at them. It’s not a pretty sight, but Atwood weaves hope throughout the story. There are whispers of dissent, rumors of an Underground Railroad-type system helping people escape to Canada. The tale ultimately seems to view society in an optimistic light: things can take a turn for the worse, but they will never stay that way. Society will find a way through, to move forward. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? What did you think? Are you excited for the Hulu series?