The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor Books, 1986.
One major theme in The Handmaid’s Tale is government control of reproduction. The birthrate in Gilead was dramatically decreasing and the government took extreme measures to control reproduction and women to “unsure the future.” All the rights women previously had were taken away; they suddenly couldn’t have jobs, hold property, read, or vote. The women who are still fertile like Offred, the main character, are expected to have babies and that’s it. They are looked on as just a womb on legs, not a real person. “, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.” (136.) The handmaid’s have no power over anything, and they only had limited power over themselves. If they ran away they will just be caught and punished, it would be hard to miss there big red dresses and white wings uniforms.
Many handmaids’ would try and commit suicide in order to have some final sense of decision and power. Suicide is always in the back of Offred’s mind. “I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolor pictures of blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other escapes, the one you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.” (8.)
Each handmaid is assigned to a certain house and given new names. The houses they go to are the ones who are high up in government and the ones with unfertile wives. The handmaids then are to have sex with the husband and hope to get pregnant. If you’re lucky enough to get pregnant, once you have the baby it is theirs. The handmaids are taught to have sympathy for the wives, since they have to have sex with their husbands. “she’d like me pregnant though, over and done with and out of the way, no more humiliating sweaty tangles, no more flesh triangles under her starry canopy of silver flowers.” (204.)
We see the thoughts of Offred and also here about her past life, before the government was in so much control. There are many rules for the handmaids, they are always being watched. They are around to makes children and that is all, if it takes to long for them to become pregnant then there is no use for them, no need. “I say. It’s true, and I don’t ask why, because I know. Give me children, or else I die. There’s more than one meaning to it.” (61.)
The governments’ control of reproduction in Gilead kind of destroys itself. Offred learns from her Commander (the man of the family she’s at) that he has had many affairs with other handmaids, and how there is a secret club that many government officials go to and women go to for sexual purposes. Offred also finds herself in an affair which more or less leads to the ending. “I was her hope, I’ve failed her. Now she will always be childless.” (295.) What the government doesn’t get is that you can’t completely control reproduction or sexuality.
PERSONAL CONNECTION: I personally really enjoyed this book. I like picturing what life would be like if I was in the same situation. I like thinking how I would respond to certain situations in the book also. I don’t really see any connections between my life and the book I read. The government we have today doesn’t control everything we do like in The Handmaid’s Tale. The only thing that comes close to the handmaids’ job would be surrogate mothers. Surrogate mothers carry a baby with them and then will give the baby up to someone else. It would be basically the same thing as the handmaids, expect surrogate mothers are not forced at all.
RECOMMENDATION: I thought this book was very good, I think it is directed to those who are high school and up. If you enjoy reading books about government control, or what would happen if government controlled everything then you would like this book. It is very similar to 1984 by George Orwell; if you liked that book you would also like this one. It keeps your attention and really gets you thinking about how we are living today. It’s interesting to picture what life would be like if government was in total control. Yes, I would recommend other books by her, her book was easy to understand and will keep your attention. Another of her books was also a Booker Prize Winner.