If you have been following (and reading) this blog for some time you'll know that I have a lot of "classics" which I need to read. I've heard of many of these books but I have never had the opportunity to sit down and read them. Well, I'm working on that. Bit by bit I'll read something new for me but old for many others.
The Handmaid's Tale was one of these books. I bought a used copy several months ago from my favorite used bookstore and have been carrying it around with all intentions of reading it. According to my friends, it's a great book, but also frustrating and sad. I wanted to be prepared to read something like that and at times, when life is already frustrating or sad enough, it's best to read something lighter.
I found the time to pick up the book recently and fell right in. This book is frustrating, it is sad, and it's also a little scary. Women's rights have often been a topic of political debate and have seemed to become a popular topic again within the past years. With rights given or taken away there are many people with opinions on the matter and this book, in a nutshell, highlights what frightens me the most about people (politicians and men) trying to take control of what I do with my own body. This book isn't simply about the removal of freedom for women but such a controlled government that men do not have much room to make their own mistakes without facing the possibility of trouble either.
Offred (meaning, "Of Fred" to display the ownership Fred has for this woman) weaves in and out of memories of how things were Before and the way they are Now. She was much like any other woman, went to college, worked a job, fell in love, had a child, until a group attacked the United States, killing the President and Congress, and took over the government. They put strict rules into place, that women were not permitted to work and their only worth was broken down into a few categories: being a wife, being a cook, or having children. If a wife could not have a child this new government would assign a midwife (which is what Offred is) to have a ritual-like sexual intercourse with the husband and hopefully become pregnant. Go against any of the rules that have been set up and you likely will be killed.
The grim life the people are living is obvious by the comments made by Offred. All the possible objects that could be used by the handmaids to kill themselves have been removed from the rooms and they are often times watched. To remind the people of the power that oversees them, those set to be hanged have their bodies placed on display on The Wall. The women go through grueling "training" where they are essentially led to understand that they must obey and remain silent. They're only cattle to be used for reproduction.
What a horrible world to live in. I can understand why people have always given me a warning when I've said this book was on my to-read list. Still, I was fascinated by the book and Atwood wrote it beautifully. The depressed state Offred lives in, her heart still very much broken but devoted to her child which was taken away from her, and the simplicity of the day to day functions broken by the rambling thoughts of the main character were artfully written. I tried to picture myself in the position of this character and it was painful to do. When a book can leave you emotionally exhausted, you know it was written well. So be warned, this can have the power to leave you blinking and feeling off when you read it. But still, don't let that stop you. It's worth the read and it certainly gives the reader an almost cautious look to the world around them.