The Handmaid's Tale | Teen Ink

The Handmaid's Tale

April 16, 2022
By Alexandriaminakshi PLATINUM, Durgapur, Other
Alexandriaminakshi PLATINUM, Durgapur, Other
33 articles 1 photo 1 comment

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is an enthralling read. It is a fictional account of events in a totalitarian thenomic state called the Republic of Gilead. The people living in Gilead are divided into distinct groups based on their gender and social status. This novel is narrated from the perspective of a handmaid, Offred. Handmaids have the duty of bearing children for the high-ranking officials known as the commanders and their barren wives. Women in Gilead are stripped of all their fundamental rights. They are not even allowed to read and write, and their bodies are treated as instruments of possession. Their femininity is reserved for serving the masculinity of men. They are forced to withdraw from the careers and lives they had prior to the inception of Gilead. Another exciting thing about Gilead is that women are always under the pressure of following the rules while high ranking men find a thrill in breaking them. For instance, women who are unsuitable for being handmaids are gathered to work as prostitutes and entertainers in a brothel called Jezebels, exclusive to people like the commander. Finally, after being used thoroughly, women are cast-off to the colonies to die a slow and painful death doing menial labour. Many women are punished with the death sentence or sent to colonies for committing forbidden acts. Most of the women in the novel, be it the wives or handmaids, are silent about the atrocities being committed against them. They are neither vocal about their unhappiness nor actively resist the atrocities. This aspect of Gilead's women's attitude is deeply connected to the mindsets of women living even in democracies; girls and women rarely report the various kinds of abuse they face; they are not free though the law allows their freedom. When sought after passionately, education can free women from all the pains of life as they become knowledgeable and try to use the law to their benefit.


An interesting aspect of the handmaid's tale is that even though men suppress women, men themselves are not happy, and at least some part of them is longing for the old world. For example, the commander longs to spend time with his handmaids, requests for an obligatory kiss as if it is meant and claims that his wife does not understand him and depicts that suppression is not suitable for both the sexes as when a society is not free both men and women suffer due to the consequences that follow. For instance, the distance between the sexes and the anger that women accumulate towards men result in their inability to reciprocate emotions.


Margaret Atwood quickly broke the assumption that all women should be angelic or kind towards other women or people, which is prominently depicted through the characters of this novel as many of them are torchbearers of the values of the society Gilead. For instance, the aunts are true believers of the philosophies of the Gilead, and they, in turn, keep an eye or discipline the other women like the handmaids. The commander's wife, Serena Joy, who is very depressed, finds happiness controlling the women under her. Atwood, in an interview, when asked whether the women should be more kind, genuine or compassionate than men, responded that there are diverse kinds of human beings, and women are part of this species and are unique, so why should the bar be higher for women?


Offred is a submissive woman for most of the story. Despite that, resistance builds up in her. She expresses this in the form of love or affection towards Nick, a chauffeur, one of the unique ways the author expresses resistance.


This book is inspired by Atwood's experience with a near totalitarian regime when she was living in western Germany. During this time, she experienced the "feeling of being spied on," the way people manipulate information while carrying it to others and the general discomfort of a near war-like situation. These experiences influenced her writing. Margaret Atwood put together all the horrors in the world against women in the form of atrocities in Gilead. In a way, it is a compilation of the horrors against women throughout history. This novel partly also depicts the new right of the 1980s in the United States. This movement was against the inception of increased liberty. The republic in the novel is a place where all such beliefs took concrete form and led to the formation of Gilead.


The handmaid's tale is speculative fiction which means that it is a type of genre that warns us about what could happen when a series of events occur. This book should be a warning sign as what occurred in Gilead could really happen anywhere as women in some places are being stripped of fundamental rights like the right to education. We should be warned because society is stifling even in the most liberal countries. Men try to claim possession even though the law does not permit it. When the women defy, they go the length of attacking physically and mentally, even though the legal system is intact with strict sanctions. We should be worried because, as Margaret Atwood described, "our present is Offred's past," and it may soon turn into her present.

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