Here’s a guest book review from our GHS Summer Intern Evan on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: There is something enticing about reading the interpretations of dystopia from esteemed authors. Their creativity and sharp attunement to reality ensnare us and frighten us with how similar the conditions are to the world we live in today. Just as Orwell drew a striking parallel between the manipulation of how people think to the rapidly increasing control and misconduct of governments around the world in “1984”, so too does Margaret Atwood create a corrupt, contradictory society that reflects the culture we have today. But what does The Handmaid’s Tale attempt to teach its audience? Does it succeed in doing so?
Many years into the future, the world has become a dangerous place. Dwindling in population, the Republic of Gilead creates an authoritarian system in an attempt to build hierarchy and preserve humanity. This extremist system twists its religion to force women into roles based on the color of their gown. Blue, for example, belongs to the wife of a Commander, while Red is the color of the handmaid who must mate with the Commanders in order to repopulate Gilead. Offred is but one of these handmaids, forced into submission with little hope of escape. If she cannot produce a healthy child, she will suffer the same fate as all handmaids and will be sent to work in the “colonies.” Despite this she is determined. She clings onto the memories of her life before the Republic, with her daughter and husband. Even if they may have been killed at some point during her time as a handmaid, she refuses to sit by knowing there is a chance she can see them again.
Margaret Atwood excels in gradually building the world of the story through dialogue and narration. In time the reader learns exactly how this strange government came to be. No character is pure evil nor heroic, but rather a mere human being coping with the brainwashing and overwhelming power that Gilead holds in different ways. As a result, the story is just as grounded as the Orwellian classics it draws similarities. Atwood’s commentary on the use of societal rules and culture as a means of enslavement stand out because they reflect issues of the world today. People bend to the established norms that seem to appear out of thin air, even if they devalue many aspects of our humanity. This is why we have activism and fight for equality. If you love Orwell or are just looking for a fascinating yet powerful story, this book is the one for you.
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