Context | Women’s position in society has been a long-debated topic, starting from women’s rights to wage inequality and discrimination. It is also the leitmotif of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a dystopian novel about a society where fertility is a major issue and fertile women, called handmaids, are obliged to give birth for rich families.
In a nutshell | The novel tells the story of Offred, who is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. To give you a bit of context, Gilead is a totalitarian society where women’s rights are taken away under the pretext of restoring order. With Offred as the narrator of the novel, we are presented two narrative paths: (1) the present, focusing on the daily life of a handmaid, and (2) the past, focusing on the events that led to Offred becoming a handmaid.
Overall impression | I enjoyed reading the novel and I found it very thought-provoking. I liked that it is a dystopia build not around technological developments (like The Circle by Dave Eggers is), but it revolves around power and inequality. Taking into account the current social and political developments, you might surprise yourself thinking “wow, this is not so impossible to happen…” while reading it.
Symbolism | Something else I found it was interesting that names and colours were used as a mean of control. For example, handmaids were named depending on the man they were assigned to. The main character, Offred, belonged to Fred, thus her name was Of Fred – Offred. When it comes to colours, women were obliged to wear a certain colour (or colour combination) based on their position in the society. You can see more details in the picture below.
Fragmentation | What I found a bit tricky while reading the book was its fragmented storyline. The novel has the structure of a journal, with scenes from present and past intertwined, imitating the way thoughts come to one’s mind. While this mimics the way we think, it might feel unstructured at times, and some passages were more difficult to follow in my case.
The TV series | After reading the book, I also watched the TV series inspired by Atwood’s novel. Personally, I found it a great adaptation of the book and I enjoyed it a lot! I liked that the context of the story was adjusted to the current times (e.g.: people use smartphones). As Dockterman (2017) said “[..] Atwood wrote the book on a typewriter in 1984; much has changed since then, both technologically and socially.” However, these adjustments were made while keeping the same core message and the main plot line. The other main differences I observed were that some scenes and characters were extended, and also the TV series has some new scenes and points of view that were not part of the book.
Wrap-up | By putting together historical precedents, such as state surveillance, programs design to increase birth rates, book burning events and enforced dress codes (Cain, 2017), Atwood created a beautiful cautionary tale that is very relevant to our times. It is a story about power and authority, lust and love, friendship and resistance movements. Yes, it is a book worth reading and a TV series worth watching! No matter which form of entertainment you choose, I am sure you will enjoy it!
Book covers | If you’re curious how the book’s covers are illustrated around the world, check out this post: Book covers around the world: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
‘Till next time, happy reading!
PS: It was announced that the TV series will continue with Season 2, and that Atwood will be heavily involved in the process of writing the episodes (nme.com). Yay! ❤
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