Sunday, 23 October 2011

Finished reading: The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood's classic novel from 1985 about an imagined future, a dystopia called the Republic of Gilead in what was formally the USA. Women have been forced into subjugation by the new military regime. Offred, our protagonist, is a Handmaid whose sole purpose is to get pregnant or else be turned out to die of radiation. Through her narration we learn about the events that led up to the founding of this totalitarian theocracy and the social hierarchies, laws and practices that it establishes.

Have you read it? Maybe age affects my reaction to it but I found its ideas even darker and more disturbing in tone then William Golding's The Lord of the Flies or George Orwell's Animal Farm which I read in my teens when we studied them at school.

Atwood's depiction of the treatment of the women in the story, by men and by other women who are in power, I found really shocking. Although I guess taking away women's rights, their choices and even their identities, using them only as breeding machines, controlling what they wear and what they say or enforcing sterility and pushing them into prostitution are not new or even just fictional ideas. Exploitation and subjugation of women has always happened and still happens. Maybe I was shocked at the way it was made lawful by the story's regime and the women broken gradually through subversive psychological abuse. A thought provoking read.

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