The book club conversation:
Mollie: “So what is our next book going to be, Stephanie?”
Stephanie: “The Handmaid’s Tale. I can’t wait.”
Mollie: “Oh I have been meaning to read that for a while!”
Me: (in head) I’m quite sure that’s another of those books one of my family members has said ‘nope, not your kind of book’.
I’ve grown. It didn’t even scare me.
The introduction to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was re-written last year. The author commented that while the book was first published in 1985 and was a product of her imagination, though based on things she felt were real in their potential, it seemed to have an eerie sense of reality in light of the political atmosphere within the last few years in the United States.
Men rule the world, or at least the world that is known to Offred. Women are given roles according to their abilities. If you’re one of the “lucky” ones, you get chosen to be a Handmaid. Your existence is to house and birth children so that society can continue.
The world “before” was just as we knew it in the 80s. Free choice. Women could have bank accounts and jobs and lives of their own. They could choose to have children or get married. Or not. But a revolution took place. The leaders of the revolution changed all that.
Because of pollution, babies were beginning to be born disfigured. If a baby was born whole and not disfigured, it was great cause for celebration.
Offred (literally “of Fred”) is a Handmaid. In her life before the revolution, she had a husband (their marriage was the result of an affair and his divorce) and a daughter. She worked and had a bank account and smoked cigarettes because those were her choices. Now she goes for weekly visits to the Commander’s room while laying in the wife of the Commander’s lap to be fertilized in hopes that she can have a child to further the world.
But as the story continues, the reader discovers that not everyone is a true believer. There is an underground freedom party that is working, albeit slowly due to the danger of being hung in public for any number of misdeeds, to break the power of the Commanders.
As I read this book I went through a range of emotions.
Horror for Offred’s situation and horror that the concept for this book was and is considered “real in potential” in 2018.
Sadness for women who are faced with choices like this in our world today. Because while it isn’t me who faces anything like what is described in this book, there are women who are repressed in ways similar to the concepts Offred is faced with.
Anger that we haven’t moved so far beyond these concepts in the world that they are still relevant 30 years later.
Happiness that I have a bank account. I can read books. I can choose to be married and have children. I can have my own job. I can express my own thoughts.
This book was scary in a very realistic way but I am thankful that I have the freewill to read it and contemplate the idea of choice and my role in society.
While I enjoyed the story of The Handmaid’s Tale, I have zero interest in watching the Hulu special. Maybe I have grown enough in my literary diversity to enjoy a book about a disturbing topic where I can control the story that is painted in my own mind. But when the story is brought to life for me on television, I want no part of it. I’ll keep my growth small and steady, thank you.
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