The Handmaid’s Tale is a futuristic dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. This novel was published in 1985. It is set in a near-future New England in a patriarchal, totalitarian economic state known as The Republic of Gilead, which has overthrown the United States government. The Handmaid’s Tale” is a thought-provoking novel that explores the dangers of totalitarianism and the oppression of women.
In this novel, Offred is the main character and narrator Of the Novel. She is one of the “handmaids”, women who are forcibly assigned to produce children for the “commanders”, who are the ruling class in Gilead. In the Novel, W
omen are stripped of all their rights and freedoms and forced to serve as reproductive slaves for the ruling elite.
About The Author
Margaret Atwood is one of the most celebrated and influential writers of our time. She was born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1939, and grew up in various parts of Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. She studied at the University of Toronto and Radcliffe College and has taught at several universities in Canada and abroad. She has written more than 50 books of fiction, poetry, essays, and criticism, covering a wide range of genres and topics.
Some of her most notable works include The Edible Woman, Surfacing, The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, The Testaments, and The MaddAddam Trilogy. She has won numerous awards and honors for her literary achievements, such as the Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Award, the Giller Prize, the PEN Pinter Prize, and the Franz Kafka Prize. She is also a prominent activist and advocate for environmental, feminist, and human rights causes.
Themes Of “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” addresses several thought-provoking themes, including gender oppression, religious extremism, totalitarianism, and the importance of individual autonomy. The novel explores the consequences of extreme ideologies and the ways in which they can strip away human rights and dignity. It also delves into the power dynamics between men and women, and the subjugation of women’s bodies for reproductive purposes. Atwood’s portrayal of a patriarchal society and the dehumanization of women raises important questions about gender roles, identity, and feminism.
Summary Of “The Handmaid’s Tale”
The novel is narrated by Offred, one of the “handmaids” in Gilead. Handmaids are fertile women who are assigned to elite men called “commanders” to bear children for them. Offred serves Commander Fred Waterford and his wife Serena Joy, a former gospel singer and advocate for traditional values. She is barren due to widespread infertility caused by environmental pollution and disease.
Offred’s name means “of Fred”, indicating her lack of identity and autonomy. She lives in a strict regime where she has to follow rules and rituals that are based on a twisted interpretation of some Old Testament verses. She has to wear a red dress and a white bonnet that covers her face. Offred lives in constant fear of being punished or killed for any sign of disobedience or rebellion.
She has no access to education, information, or entertainment and is not allowed to read, write, or speak freely. She can only leave the house for shopping trips with another Handmaid, Ofglen. She has to endure monthly “ceremonies” where she is raped by the Commander. She also has to visit a doctor regularly to check her health and fertility.
Offred remembers her life before Gilead when she was a librarian, a wife, and a mother. She had a husband named Luke and a daughter named Hannah. She also had a best friend named Moira, who was a rebellious feminist. After a staged terrorist attack that killed the president and most of Congress, a radical group called the Sons of Jacob seized power and suspended the Constitution.
They blamed the declining birth rate on environmental pollution, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, contraception, and women’s liberation. They banned women from working, owning property, having money, or accessing education. They also divided women into rigid classes based on their reproductive status: Wives (the spouses of commanders), Marthas (the domestic servants), Aunts (the indoctrinators and enforcers of handmaids), Econowives (the wives of lower-class men), Jezebels (the prostitutes), Unwomen (the rebels and outcasts), and Handmaids.
Offred tried to escape with Luke and Hannah to Canada, but they were caught by the border guards. Offred was separated from her family and sent to a reeducation center called the Red Center, where she was trained by Aunts to become a handmaid. There she met Moira again, who had been captured after trying to join an underground resistance group. Moira managed to escape from the Red Center by stealing an Aunt’s uniform and faking her identity.
Despite repeated Ceremonies, Offred is still not pregnant, and it is suggesting that the Commander is infertile. Therefore, Serena, the Commander’s wife tells Offred that she should sleep with Nick, their chauffeur, and gardener. Serena promises to give Offred a picture of her daughter in return for doing so. That same night, the Commander takes Offred to Jezebels, a club for Commanders who want to sleep with prostitutes. There, she finds her friend Moira who tried to escape from Gilead while they were in the Red Center together. This is the last time she ever sees her friend. Offred and the Commander sleep together while there, an experience that Offred has to pretend to enjoy.
As soon as Offred returns with the Commander from the club, she sleeps with Nick. Offered and Nick develop a genuine connection, and they begin to meet without anyone’s knowledge. Around this time, Ofglen, a member of Mayday whom she has befriended, commits suicide in order to escape torture at the hands of Gilead’s secret police. Serena finds evidence of the relationship between Offred and the Commander, which results in Offred contemplating suicide.
Offred goes out shopping, and a new Ofglen meets her. This new woman is not part of Mayday, and she tells Offred that the old Ofglen hanged herself when she saw the secret police coming for her. At home, Serena has found out about Offred’s trip to Jezebel’s, and she sends her to her room, promising punishment. Offred waits there, and she sees a black van from the Eyes approach. Then Nick comes in and tells her that the Eyes are really Mayday members who have come to save her. Offred leaves with them, over the Commander’s futile objections, on her way either to prison or to freedom—she does not know which.
The novel closes with an epilogue from 2195, after Gilead has fallen, written in the form of a lecture by Professor Pieixoto. It describes the discovery of Offred’s narrative on cassette tapes in Maine, suggesting that the Eyes that took her were part of the Resistance, as Nick claimed. It is revealed that researchers may have discovered who the Commander was, but no one knows what happened to Offred.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a haunting and impactful novel that continues to be relevant in contemporary society. It serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of oppressive regimes, the erosion of human rights, and the consequences of unchecked power. In the novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” Atwood’s powerful prose and compelling storytelling shed light on important social and political issues, reflect on the value of individual freedom, and the need for equality and justice in society.
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