The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

handmaids-taleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, first published in 1985.

Author. Goodreads. Amazon. Book Depository. Barnes & Noble.

Genre: dystopian (sci-fi).

Source: the library.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now… (Goodreads)


My rating: 5/5

I’ve been wanting to read The Handmaid’s Tale for a while now but I’ve somehow fallen out of the habit of reading classics. It took me some time to really get into it, even more so because of the topic. Any stories where something bad happens to children are a huge no-no right now, but I’m so glad I worked my way through the difficult beginning of this particular tale and read it despite my fears. I’m sorry if the review isn’t the most eloquent you’ve ever read – this is an important book for me so I might ramble a bit.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about motherhood (hello, obviously, I’m a new mom) and the role of women in our society. This book addresses all my concerns and has a certain punch-in-the gut effect that left me with a profound sense of worry about where this current situation is leading. Mind you, this book was first published in 1985, when I wasn’t even born yet, and women are STILL fighting the same old fights – and in fact, the situation is even worse today. This is something I find particularly terrible. Read this article if you’re interested in seeing just how bad things are becoming for feminists.

If we take this book out of its context (which is nearly impossible, but let’s try anyway), it’s one of the best-written novels I’ve read in years. There are SO MANY quotable quotes I noted them in my phone, in my journal, and on random bits of paper. I have read Atwood’s The Penelopiad and Surfacing before (during my studies), but neither stuck with me as much as The Handmaid’s Tale did.

I just have to list my favourite quotes here, much as I dislike just quoting stuff without context (there’s that word again, so important…):

  • We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.
  • I hunger to commit the act of touch.
  • Humanity is so adaptable, my mother used to say. Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.
  • How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all.”


The most important thing about reading this book, however, is that it made me think. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks (it took me more than three weeks to sit down and write this review) and these are the questions that have been rolling around in my mind, scaring me to death:

  •  Would women really descend to this point? Would we become our own jailers? — Yes. The situation now may not be as extreme as in Gilead, but look at all the slut shaming going on, at the petty comments we make about each other’s daily appearance. I’m ashamed of myself sometimes.
  • Do we all have Stockholm syndrome, living peacefully in a patriarchical society? — Maybe. I have never felt particularly oppressed, but that doesn’t mean that millions of women aren’t in a horrible position every day without even realizing it.
  • When have we gotten so adept at turning the other way? — This is the most horrible of truths, perhaps, that we have been raised to be blind to social injustice.
  • Is Gilead really the logical conclusion of the events taking place in the last couple of decades? — Again, maybe. Don’t tell me you don’t feel like the world is taking a turn for the worse.


And with this optimistic thought, I leave the stage to you (if you haven’t given up on me yet):

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale?

Did you find it as scary as I did? What freaked you out the most?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and discuss this with you!

  • So much love for this book! I agree that many of these plot points could (or have, to some extent) happen, and that’s part of what makes it so chilling. The whole turning a blind eye to atrocities or injustice is something that happens even on a micro-scale. I can’t even imagine how much more disturbing The Handmaid’s Tale would be if I were a mother. Atwood has a way of making the most horrifying things seem like reality; she does a similar thing with her book “Oryx and Crake.”

    If you want more sci-fi that discusses these issues of women’s bodies and motherhood/breeding, you should check out Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild.” It is horrific (more so than The Handmaid’s Tale, imo) but SO thought-provoking.

    • Kaja

      I’m thinking of reading more books by her. She’s great but maybe I was just too young when I read The Penelopiad and Surfacing, so I might have to revisit those soon.
      I’ll save Octavia Butler for later when the word “breeding” doesn’t make me bare my teeth and hiss (kidding), but I’ll definitely keep it in mind – I love reading such literature and I’m usually not so touchy about it. It’s weird – I *knew* that having a kid would change my sleep schedule, my body, my daily routine, but I never imagined it would change my book tastes :)

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