Book Report: The Handmaid’s Tale

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Book Title: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

About the Author: She has written several other novels, although I haven’t read them. She looks like a nice lady. She lives in Canada!

Main Characters: As always, there are many characters in the book so I’ll focus on the main ones. Sorry for spoilers!

Offred (June?): Protagonist. She has completed training to be a Handmaid in the dystopian future of this country, which is renamed Gilead after a horrific government coup led by a radically religious Christian sect. There is a disease or genetic mutation or something causing sterilization and infertility, so only women with certain genes are able to give birth – the Handmaids. There’s a crazy new system for procreation where a married couple uses a handmaid as a surrogate, but with crazy sex practices and strange indentured servitude with a religious zealot flair. Definitely a scary scenario.

The Commander: The antagonist? But it’s unclear if he’s the TOP of the totem pole or just one of the high ranking officials. He’s certainly complicit in the new laws that deprive all women of the right to read and write, own property and money, and robbing women of their families and the children they had given birth to before the regime change. The Commander toys with Offred, inviting her to visit him at night (which is normally forbidden) to read books and magazines, and he even took her on a little excursion one time.

Serena Joy: The wife of the Commander. She’s a bitch. I’m sure any woman in her situation would feel the envy and hatred for a handmaid, yet her ‘religion’ forces her to accept the ceremonies. Why did the women in this dystopian future allow this to happen? How did they all become convinced that this crazy religion was the answer?

Luke: He and June/Offred were married before this craziness happened. They have a daughter together, but the crazy religious government decided it was unfit because Luke had been married before. Divorce was no longer legal or something. It was somewhat unclear what exactly happened to him. He might have been killed, he might have escaped. Offred doesn’t know.

Moira: In the time before Gilead, Moira and June were best friends. I wrote June with a question mark before because I didn’t really know her name when I read the book, although I probably just forgot the one instance that they said her name. But in the Hulu series they say June all the time. Anyway, Moira is full of life and is brave. She sees June/Offred one last time in an unexpected place. (This is totally different from the plot of the Hulu series, for some reason they changed a LOT of these details.)

Oflgen: A fellow handmaid, she walks to the market and goes to Gilead events with Offred every day. At first they didn’t talk much but eventually she reveals that there is an underground network fighting against the regime. They have hope. But then tragedy strikes. (ahh trying not to reveal too much!)

Aunt Lydia: One of the crazy older ladies in charge of training the handmaids and she seems to enjoy threatening and scaring the groups of women in her charge at the Red Center. She runs Salvaging events too, during which a sinner is punished – usually hung or beat to death in some way. Sometimes the handmaids are ordered to participate in carrying out the sentence. Brutal stuff!

Nick: He works for the Commander as a driver, and helps to facilitate the secret meetings between the Commander and Offred. He is also an Eye, someone who spies on people to report back to the government. But he apparently is also a part of the underground resistance. Offred/June has conflicted feelings about him after Serena Joy arranges for her to have sex with Nick to “increase her chances” of making a baby. Offred and Nick start to have a secret (illegal) relationship, which she feels conflicted about considering she doesn’t know what happened to her husband.

Plot Summary: It’s a dystopian future where women have lost their rights – but only in Gilead. Tourists come to visit and take photos of the handmaids in their strange uniforms. Women have been brainwashed to feel shame and blame for not being able to conceive, yet the Handmaids are the only fertile women and they’re still treated like garbage. What kind of messed up patriarchy is this? If I were a character in this book, I would have been shot already for dissent.

The story is told in a non-linear way that jumps between present day and times before Gilead, when they “were happy but didn’t know it”. The establishment is running Gilead but there was enough opposition to have a secret underground network. Unfortunately the end of the book is very abrupt and there isn’t much conflict resolution. I don’t want to give too much away. All I can say is that the plot of the book and the plot of the Hulu series are extraordinarily different and I found it a little confusing and off-putting when I watched the series right after reading the novel.

Lessons Learned: This book should be a reminder that women especially need to stand up for their rights and not let something horrendous like this happen to us. If we stand together we are strong. Also, I think this book reminds us that women should NEVER be defined by their status of motherhood.

Personal Opinions: Ugh this book was tough to get through at some points. It’s a fast read (aside from some disturbing scenes in the story) and you basically feel icky after it’s done. I did enjoy the storytelling, it was informal and direct to “you” the reader, which helps you to really get wrapped into the story. I felt pain for the protagonist, I wanted to help her, I wanted to slap sense into all of the Gilead assholes. I feel confident that our society would never devolve into this… as long as we don’t get rid of all the scientists. In the book, science was outlawed. I hope that this country is smart enough to not do that…

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