Scrolling through the list of senior English’s outside reading assignment list, a particular title caught my eye. It was a book that’d been on my list for ages, but I hadn’t had a chance to read yet. “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a dystopian novel, written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and published in 1985. It’s set in the near future, where the city Gilead is ruled by a totalitarian Christian government.
In Gilead, women are sorted into classes. Wives of the Commanders are highest in society, Moiras are household servants, Aunts are in charge of brainwashing the women and the Handmaids have the role of reproduction.
Many women have been made sterile by radiation, so the Handmaids live with a Commander until they bear him a child, and then move on to another Commander. If they are unable to bear a child, or dissent against the system, they will be cast out or hanged outside what was once Harvard University. The story revolves around a particular handmaid, called Offred, and how she lives under the regime.
The book is a criticism of far right political systems that take away individuality and freedom to institute a strict world order. From the first chapter, I could see clear similarities between the world of Gilead and areas of the Middle East under the Taliban. The veils that cover almost every part of the skin. The limits placed in women’s speech in public. The use of religion out of context to subjugate women.
But scarily, I could see clear parallels between this “extreme dystopia” and life in the Western world.
Gilead makes women wear veils that cover their whole bodies, saying it is to protect them from the male gaze. This didn’t seem a stretch from women today being told “if you don’t want to be catcalled or raped then don’t dress in revealing clothes.”
Even the way we address couples as ‘Mr and Mrs John Smith’ carries traces of the handmaid’s names, where Offred means “Property Of Fred.”
So many things that we see so often in our society are portrayed in this books. Religion influencing politics. Subjugation of women. Rape. Atwood described tyrannical aspects of a dystopian world that 30 years later would be true.
I absolutely recommend “The Handmaid’s Tale,” both as an excellent work of literature, and as an opportunity to reevaluate the way our society treats women.