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BOOK REVIEW: "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Margaret Atwood's 1985 book "The Handmaid's Tale."
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BOOK REVIEW: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

In recent news, many women have come out against men in the media alleging sexual misconduct.

Men like Harvey Weinstein, Amazon Studio executive Roy Price, former President George H.W. Bush and many others have been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault. This condition of men using their power to take advantage of women is not a recent development.

As the news continued to report, a book began to call to me and I felt that now, above all else, was the right time to read it.

The book was The Handmaid’s Tale.

With any book, I attempt to leave all prejudices and real-world conceptions at the door unless they present themselves. By chapter two, I could feel the real-world peeking in.

This dystopian novel was written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood in 1985 yet the feelings of the novel feel prevalent more today than ever.

Our story follows Offred, a handmaid in the new Republic of Gilead. Offred is part of a class of women called the handmaids and their sole purpose in the society is to conceive and bear children for the families. Dressed in red, these women are separated from the other women who wear blue or green.

The Republic of Gilead was formed after successful staged attacks on the United States government killed the President and the majority of Congress. It was in this darkness that the new military dictatorship shrouded in religion was able to take control.

Women’s civil rights were quickly taken away in the overthrow of the government. Rights like equality, sexual reproduction rights and general human rights were deemed punishable by the men of the society.

The new wave of religious fanaticism drove men to the service of the Republic of Gilead. Men were divided into Angels, which were guards posted in the society yet had to have their back turned towards the women, citizens, or high-ranking officers.

Each man was given a wife dressed in blue and their goal was to remain faithful. When it came time to bear children, handmaids were sent to the house for what was called the “ceremony.”

Men would have sexual intercourse with the handmaid as the wife remained in the room. After conception, the handmaid became forced surrogates charged with carrying the child to term.

Rules like no fraternizing with other men, stepping out of your caste or engaging in homosexual tendencies could result in death.

Along the walls of the Republic of Gilead, Offred often sees people hanging signs that say “sinner” or “gender betrayer.”

Offred has flashbacks to the life she once lived before the overthrow of the government. She can remember being married to a man named Luke. Before the Republic of Gilead, Luke cheated on his wife to be with Offred and they made a daughter of their own.

Since the Republic of Gilead viewed all divorces as crimes against God, the marriage was nullified. Luke was murdered in the woods, their daughter was taken and Offred was made into a handmaid in punishment for her crime.

In the story, Offred occasionally notices a Latin phrase carved into the bedpost of the Commander’s bed.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

As the novel continues to spiral further into chaos, she realizes the phrase means “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Over the past year, the United States has seen a shift in consciousness.

Views of the world seem a little bleaker while we continue to salvage what we can and preserve what we must. Written in 1985, Atwood saw the possibilities of the world to travel down the road we’re on now.

In a Time Magazine interview, she said, “When I first published the book, some people did the “it could never happen here” thing. “We’re so far along with women’s rights that we can’t go back.” I don’t hear that much anymore.”

It would be easy to turn my head and ignore the problems women face on a regular basis. Hell, people have been doing it for years without so much as a second thought.

But, to quote Atwood in her novel, “Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

After finishing the book, I felt as though I was looking at the world with a different set of glasses. As a man, I will never truly understand the plight of women and I won’t claim to understand it.

What I can do is stand beside them in their right to be equal and free.

So, to the women who have brought the information against these men and those who are still afraid of the ramifications, I stand by you.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

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About the Author

Brandon King

Brandon King is a journalism student at OCCC, working towards becoming a professional writer....

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