The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one option: To breed.
The Handmaid’s tale is another dystopian social sci-fi, where all rights of women are obliterated. Women are deprived of work and bank accounts, not allowed to read, confined to breed. Moral righteousness is installed, adulterers are hanged, piety is expected, women are expected to be shrouded in long gowns and long sleeves, lipsticks, high heels, lingerie, women magazines, cigarettes..(you get the idea)…. are all things of the past. Women no longer has a name but takes over the first name of the man, Ofwarren, Ofglen etc. And they are watched over by the Aunts, Aunt Lydia and Aunt Elizabeths and wait upon by the Marthas.
Offred used to have a name, a lover named Luke and a daughter, but have lost all of them when the Guardians came for them. She is moved to the Red Centre together with Alma, Janine, Moira and must obey the house rules of the Commander’s wife, Serena Joy, if they want to continue to live. If she deviates, she will be hanged at the wall, like many of those she saw on her every day shopping trip, or sent out to die slowly in the colonies.
But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire. Offred was summoned to the Commander’s office to amuse him, and was instructed by Serena Joy to produce an offspring with the loyal chauffeur of the Commander Nick. Offred’s future now hinges on the two men who will decide her fate.
Having read 1984 by George Orwell not too long ago, I can certainly see where Atwood drew her inspirations from. The protagonist lives in the same repressive state in fear of being heard, in a world where Quakers are hanged, and people disappear into the night in a black van if suspected of being a dissident etc.
Bible verses are often quoted:
For lunch it was the Beatitudes. Blessed be this, blessed be that. Blessed be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blesses are the merciful. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the silent. I knew they made that up, I knew it was wrong, and they left things out too, but there was no way of checking. Blessed be those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Nobody said when.
I wouldn’t recommend this book for light reading. It is actually very chilling and disturbing. There are scenes which describes a cross between a rape and fertilisation, perversion of a gynaecologist offer, or female organs mutilation, which I find very disturbing and uncharacteristic of Atwood’s work. Then again what do I know? I haven’t read any of Atwood’s man booker prize’s winning books yet. The story goes back and forth between present and the past. The present involves tiptoeing between defying the house rules and getting caught, the past about her life with Luke and her mother, who is send to the colonies as punishment. With a depressing theme, it is hard to expect a perfect ending for doomed characters.
Having said that Atwood is an accomplished writer. In this microcosm society she created, Atwood has addressed the common issues experienced by women e.g. infertility, the pride of pregnancy, child birth, miscarriage, still born, desire, illicit relationship, mistresses etc. The lesson to determine to live and to find hope in the midst of despair.
Very bold, borderline blasphemous and disturbing read. I got to read something cheerful after this.