With the heat from the United States presidential election, there has been a spike in book sales, specifically with stories like 1984 and other dystopian fictions. One book that has also received a lot of attention is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The story is about this woman named Offred, who is a handmaid for a commander in the Republic of Gilead. The world she lives in has a declining birth rate, and other than her daily walks to make errands for the household, once a month she must lay on her back and hope that she gets pregnant from the commander. In this ultra-conservative, fundamentalist setting, this is the primary job for her and other handmaids like her. However, Offred still has memories of the time before she was forced into this role, back when she had a normal life with her husband and daughter. It’s the kind of book that is studied in literature classes all over the world, and is also just as frequently on the “banned books list.” Still having trouble deciding whether or not to read this fantastic story? Check these three reasons below:
- The writing is beautiful and unique.
You can tell that Margaret Atwood is a poet, her words are written with a fascinating cadence. Her descriptions are observant and sensual and make the reader feel and see everything that is happening in the world of Gilead through Offred’s limited view. Here is one of my personal favorite passages from the beginning chapters of the book:
“The carpet bends and goes down the front staircase and I go with it, one hand on the banister, once a tree, turned in another century, rubbed to a warm gloss. Late Victorian, the house is, a family house, built for a large rich family. There’s a grandfather clock in the hallway, which doles out time, and then the door to the motherly front sitting room, with its flesh tones and hints. A sitting room in which I never sit, but stand or kneel only. At the end of the hallway, above the front door, is a fanlight of colored glass: flowers, red and blue.”There are times when the pacing in the writing and story is slow, but Atwood does masterful representations of Offred’s internal thoughts, turning her mundane, routine-filled world, into a colorful perspective for the reader. These introspective passages are some of the best moments in the book and are part of what makes it so enjoyable.
- It’s relevant to today’s politics.
The subtlety in this book is amazing, and it’s terrifying when you notice the parallels between the world pre-Gilead and the current political climate. One of the main themes and plotlines of this book is the experience of Offred and how her life transitioned to her current predicament. The book notes that the country pre-Gilead had increasing propaganda against feminists and called for a more fundamentalist approach to life and the roles of women in the world. The country was war torn—not just with other countries, but also within the country itself with various religious factions.
Obviously, I’m not saying to prepare or be nervous for the world and that it will end up like this book. It’s not meant to be a guide or reference on how to prevent this dystopia from happening, but it certainly helps the reader become aware of words and who holds the power in society. Once one policy is passed to repress people, it can often be a slippery slope to stuff that is more dangerous and civil disputes, like what has happened in Gilead.
- There’s a Hulu short series coming out in April!
The series will be ten episodes and is completely star-studded. Some of the top names in the show are Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) as Offred, Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls) as Ofglen, and Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black) as Moira. This will premiere on April 26th this year on Hulu, which I believe is the best medium for this kind of series: it’s going to be long enough to cover most of the content, and because it’s online it won’t have to be as careful or censored with some of the explicit material in the book.
One interesting choice of casting is the inclusion of African-American actors as some of the main cast members. Some of them, like Moira and Luke, play some of the most important roles in the book. This is by no means a bad thing, but one of the features of the book was that Gilead was INCREDIBLY racist. I hope that they actually reflect the struggles that people of color would’ve had in this society and not brush it off as just the conflict between genders. This presents the opportunity to add more depth and perspective to this story. Check out the trailer!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMrDTDEmS4c
The Handmaid’s Tale is a book that has been out for thirty years, so it’s great to see it get some mainstream attention and an adaptation that looks like it will be excellent. So, did this convince you? What other dystopian books should get more attention (please, don’t mention The Hunger Games!). Comment below!