It’s funny that I’ve met so many people who have mixed reactions with The Handmaid’s Tale. True, maybe at a first reading it’s may not be as powerful or satirical as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Huxley’s Brave New World, and I admit I was one of those people who didn’t really like it back when I read it in 2002 but now this re-read has placed the novel in a new light. Plus I am a huge fan of dystopian novels so it did seem strange that I had a so so opinion on this book.
Offred is a Handmaid, that is her sole purpose is to produce babies in order to keep the declining population of Gilead up and the only person who can ‘mate’ with her is the commander. It has to be said that Offred lives in a house with other handmaids , servants and then there’s the guards and obviously the commander and his wife. Handmaids are taught but traditionalists called Aunts.
As the novel proceeds, Offred’s ( geddit, she is ‘of’ the commander Fred) relationship with the commander becomes more serious and in-between we get glimpses of her previous life when things were normal.
The reason why this novel should be read more than once is that there’s a lot of detail about this world and Offred’s past life and the more one reads the book, the more clear some concepts become. Trust me it’s a story that hits hard and has quite a few horrifying passages. Just a word of advice, do read the epilogue, it’s the one part of the book where everything is put in perspective and the politics of Gilead are fully fleshed out. Out of all the feminist novels I’ve read this is surely the proverbial cream of the crop.