Castes and Babymakers:
The Focus of Margaret Atwood’s Dystopian Novel The Handmaid’s Tale
Let me set the scene: I had just finished a completely devastating book series, and completed the review that rendered me unable to communicate for days. I was broken… Dear Bibliobuzzer, I know you can relate.
During this unanticipated book slump, nothing seemed to catch my interest, nothing could keep me reading past Chapter 3.
I did what I often do and checked out some of Amazon’s random suggestions. Admittedly, Amazon has led me astray a few times (*cough The Paris Wife cough*), but occasionally, I find a real gem (like the Relentless series!).
Trusting the divine algorithm by our Amazonian friends, I came across The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Though the book was published nearly three decades ago, I had never heard of it and had no preconceived notions of what to expect.
The general info: dystopian society with a severe caste system now rules what was once America, where childbearing is becoming less frequent and more cherished due to pollution and a rise in sexually-transmitted diseases.
Our main character is a woman named Offred, and we learn about her world through her own perspective as a member of a concubine class (they literally wear red) whose sole purpose is to bear children for the ruling class, and then give those babies to the wives of those they serve.
The problem is that Offred cannot let go of the life she lived before the military dictatorship that now rules her world. She remembers the husband she loved, and the little girl that was taken from her. She remembers the day things started to change, when she tried to use her money card at a convenience store and it was declined for reasons she didn’t yet understand… but soon would.
The new regime gave all power to males as Head of Household, and Offred would be reliant on her husband to access what was hers. This would not be a problem because the couple loved one another, but the nation was in decline, and a dangerous new ignorance was spreading.
We learn through the course of the story some of what happened to her family – though not all – and what she is willing to do to know of them, as well as what she must do to survive.
Quite simply, Offred’s life SUCKS.
This book teeters between being immensely hopeful and completely heartbreaking. We want Offred to be free, to find her family, or at least find a place she can be happy, but we also know more often than not it just won’t happen.
I chose to listen to this book, and I am glad that I did because Claire Danes really nails it, leading you into Atwood’s story and breaking you apart with every new chapter.
Beyond the misogyny, beyond the airless life the (predominantly) women in this story live, we keep holding out for change.
It’s also a cautionary tale. I don’t want to go all backwoods Doomsday Prepper, but some of what happens in this book has since occurred in our society, and unless Atwood has untapped talents or some unknown scrolls of Nostradamus, these events are weighty and worth reading.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was truly an unexpectedly amazing read: poignant, gripping and timely. Make sure to check it out!