Tuesday, August 20, 2019
The Handmaid's Tale
First sentence: We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
Premise/plot: The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian classic by Margaret Atwood. It is narrated by a handmaid, Offred, and set in the Republic of Gilead. Offred, which is her new name not her birth name, remembers a time before--a time when women were free: free to work, free to manage their own money, free to read and write. Because she married a divorced man, when the change happened, her marriage became illegal--immoral. She was retrained/reschooled--taught by "Aunts" in how to be an obedient servant to the Republic. In her new role as handmaid, she will seek to bear the Commander's child. Different women are assigned different tasks. Some are for sex and the bearing of children. Some are for working. Only the poorest of men have econowives--one woman expected to do ALL the household work and tasks.
The novel definitely gives us an ALTERNATE 1980s.
My thoughts: I read this one not because it is a feminist classic but because it is a dystopian classic. I found it a compelling read for the most part. It was strange to see biblical themes appear and reappear throughout the novel in various ways--none of them exactly true to an actual biblical interpretation. It would be sad if readers actually assumed this is the Christian way of thinking and that to be a Christian means you want to live in the Republic of Gilead.
I believe it is written in stream of consciousness. Offred's recollections are mixed in generously with the here and now. It is only a sense--an intuition--that keeps readers discerning what is happening in the present and what may have happened last week, last month, last year, ten years ago. I followed it for the most part. I was swept up in the story. I would not want to be quizzed on the ins and outs of it. But it kept my attention.
A few weeks ago I reviewed We Set the Dark on Fire a novel that supposedly mirrors--for a young adult audience--The Handmaid's Tale. I found it lacking even before reading this one. It just isn't as thought-provoking or as substantive. The world building just isn't there. What the two do have in common is that towards the end the narrators become distracted sexually. Offred becomes enamored--filled with lust--for Nick. And Dani becomes obsessed with Carmen. One big difference between the two is that The Handmaid's Tale is a serious work of fiction that is carefully crafted throughout. We Set the Dark on Fire, on the other hand, has the mere potential to be a serious work. I wanted it to be a political, feminist WORK. I didn't want it to be a silly, flimsy work.
The Handmaid's Tale does leave DOZENS of unanswered questions. But it does so in a way that still builds the world up satisfactorily. The danger is real in Handmaid's Tale. It is never quite in We Set the Dark on Fire.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews