The Handmaid’s Tale: Dystopian Genre, Soon to be Historical Non-fiction?

Last week’s in-class activity threw the familiar word “handmaiden” at me. Kizer’s “A Muse of Water” began, “We who must act as handmaidens.” Kizer was writing about necessary Narcissism and the power of worshipping the goddess within oneself. Margaret Atwood wrote of handmaids in a much more suppliant sense.

A few years back in high school I found a Goodreads suggested book list, titled something like, “Books Every Woman Needs to Read Before She Dies.” With that list in mind, along with a Barnes and Noble gift card that I received for Christmas, I purchased The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. As of today, it is still my favorite book. The handmaid’s tale is haunting and eerily comparable to past and present governmental rule over women. Other than being a gripping, emotional story, the novel assumes a faux historical fiction narrative to further serve as a warning to those men and institutions that seek to suppress individual freedoms.

The novel’s chapters are separated into descriptions of Offred’s (literally “Of-Fred,” as in, “belonging to Fred”) daily tasks, such as “Nap” “Shopping,” or “Household.” “Night” and “Nap” occur repeatedly. Offred’s dystopian world is the result of a totalitarian theocracy takeover. Offred struggles to escape her role as a handmaid in which she is imprisoned in a Commander’s home, with the sole purpose of producing his child. By the end, Offred has an opportunity to escape, and I will not spoil her outcome for you. The novel concludes with an epilogue, in which it is 300 years after Offred’s experience. Atwood adjusts the narrative into an interview with alternating dialogue: A college is holding a lecture in which historians are analyzing the diaries and audiotapes kept by handmaids of the now-overthrown theocracy. The scholars and students chuckle at the misogynistic barbarianism of Offred’s prison, as if it is something that appears so unreal and unlikely. Considering Offred was an American and Atwood is Canadian, I think Atwood’s censure of religiously-saturated American politics is clear. And I FEEL it.

There is a film adaptation of the novel, I believe. I haven’t seen it. Hulu is creating a series based on it, coming out this year. Here is a link to a trailer. Samira Wiley is in it (!!). The Handmaid’s Tale is definitely a book that knocks you out for a few days, and once you finish it, you feel kind of numb inside. I hope you read it, and share your thoughts with me.

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