Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thoughts On: The Handmaid's Tale

Because it feels odd to write a traditional review of a classic, but I wanted to give a shout-out to my love for The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood anyway, here's a more informal "review":

The description, from goodreads:

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining fertility, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now... 

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.


I read The Handmaid's Tale for my AP lit class just a couple weeks ago, and it's one of the few books I enjoyed from any year of English. It's also one I was actually looking forward to reading prior to beginning it, since it always seems to come up in discussions/articles of other dystopian novels (especially Wither by Lauren DeStefano). I totally get why it seems to be a standard of sorts for everything else, because it's rather awesome.

The Handmaid's Tale has many qualities that I don't see pulled off so well in many other novels; for example, rather than doing dumping all sorts of information at the beginning to set up the world, the novel begins the story straight away. The narrator does explain the more factual things as the pop up, but her explanations fit naturally into the story. This does make a few things initially confusing, but as the novel progresses, more information is gradually revealed, and the true terror of the world makes itself known. Because the world isn't one that occurred as a result of an apocalypse or random huge disaster, it feels more realistic; it's easy to see how the present day could lead into this horrific new setting. 

I also love the ambiguity of the ending. It was first a bit annoying, but because much of the story itself is ambiguous, I think it fits wonderfully. In short: an awesome, haunting book.


  1. I read The Handmaid's Tale back in high school and I loved it. It is definitely a haunting book, and Margaret Atwood's way of writing really draws you into the story. The ambiguous ending bugged me at first, too, but it fits the overall style and feel of the book. If you're ever looking to read more Atwood, her novel Oryx and Crake is a great post-apocalypse.

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  3. I've been meaning to read this. We didn't read it this year in my AP Lit class. What other books did you read for your class this year? I think I did pretty well on the exam, hoping I scored a 5 :)

    1. We read Macbeth, Hamlet, Heart of Darkness, Pride and Prejudice, and The Sound and the Fury! I think that's all, plus over summer we read To the Lightouse, A Passage to India, and The Awakening? Hoping for a 5 too!

  4. I LOVED The Handmaid's Tale!

  5. It's weird, because all these readers and even authors say they love gradual, thorough, and more believable worldbuilding, and still we get the slapdash "dystopians" in YA lit.

    Sorry to mini-rant on your review. I tried to read this on my own back in high school, but didn't finish it for some reason. I'm looking forward to picking it up again sometime though!