Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thoughts on The Handmaid's Tale

My friend Florinda of The 3Rs Blog is currently hosting a read-along of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, of which I'm participating. (You can join in, too.) We'll have our reviews up on September 12, but today we're sharing our initial thoughts on the book.

I finished this one in just a couple days, so I'll try to do this post without any spoilers. This was a re-read for me, and let me tell you ... reading this at 42 years old and in today's current political climate is very, very different than reading this as a college 20something. Back when I knew it all, I remember feeling shocked and startled by the book.

What I don't remember is feeling so ... sad.

Perhaps I was more idealistic then, more hopeful (indeed, I was) but I'm sure it has to do with being able to identify so much more with Offred now. I remember feeling bad for her and her circumstances, but I don't remember this depth of sympathy. That might have been because when I first read The Handmaid's Tale 20 years ago, motherhood was nowhere on my horizon. Marriage? Yeah, probably, at some point (depending on who I happened to have been dating at the time I read this) but motherhood?

Hell to the no.

Obviously, many things have changed in the two decades since I initially read The Handmaid's Tale. 

And because of that, I think Offred's forced separation from her husband Luke and her daughter resonated with me more this time around. That's not to diminish the other significant losses that form this new society (the Republic of Gilead, in the United States) in a presumably not-too-distant future, or the lack of freedom disguised in the form of protecting women.

"There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it." (pg. 24)

As others have said, the scary thing about The Handmaid's Tale is that you can really see how this could happen - and even though that was true in 1989 when I read it, the possibility of a world like the Republic of Gilead is even more realistic now in 2011.  Back when I read this in 1989 or thereabouts, 2011 seemed like it was so far away. We already have several elements of our culture that aren't all that far off from Offred's world.

And that's pretty damn scary.


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4 comments:

Florinda said...

I'm really glad you're participating in this and will look forward to your further thoughts! I'm about halfway through, and the book feels just as unsettling, and even more plausible, to me than it did when I first read it 20-some-odd years ago.

nomadreader said...

All these Handmaid's Tale posts make me want to reread it too! I read it in high school (approximately 15 ears ago) and remember being floored by it. I'll be curious to see how my modern self would embrace it too. Great review.

Amy said...

It really is scary isn't it? I can imagine it would be a very different experience reading from your current circumstances. Very interesting!

Jennifer said...

I remember when I first read this book. It was only a few years ago. And I immediately became a huge Atwood fan. At the time, the book was my first taste of feminist lit. I had never read anything even remotely like that before and I was shocked. But I also was deeply moved by it. I could see everything that I took for granted being ripped away from me.

I know that this book only seems to grow in its relevance and I know that I will be rereading it in my future. I'm guessing that it will mean something different to me then.