In recent years, we hear more of women who are fighting back and are getting sexual predators and harasses jailed or fired. The #MeToo movement is giving them the power that they never had before. If there’s a book that should come to mind amid this struggle, that book should be the novel, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
A Tale of One Handmaiden
This dystopian novel published in 1985 is set in an America that has been overtaken by a religious revolution. A religious-political group known as the “Sons of Jacob” has established the Republic of Gilead in place of the United States. The government was a military dictatorship that is also a theonomy and so it observes divine laws.
The government has consolidated its power by persecuting and stopping all other religions that might pose a threat against its authority. The rights of women are also severely limited as the divine law says that women are not the equal of men and they are only good for bringing children into the world and taking care of them.
Most of the story revolves around Offred who is a handmaid. The society in the Republic of Gilead is strictly divided into classes and the handmaids are the class of the women who are still able to conceive. Many women have become infertile because of the high level of environmental pollution. Handmaids are supposed to have sexual relations with officials so they can get pregnant and give birth.
Throughout the book, Offred gets to have flashbacks, where she remembers the life that she had before the revolution. Through the flashbacks it is revealed that Offred had a husband before the upheaval and they had a child. Her husband cheated on his wife to be with Offred. When the revolution happened her husband was murdered and their child was taken away from her. Offred herself was turned into a handmaid as a form of punishment for her immorality.
Offred begins an affair with one of the Commanders, the ruling class of men. Slowly the story descends into chaos and Offred learns that there is an underground resistance against the government known as the Mayday resistance. Offred’s story ends with her getting into a van unsure if she is joining the resistance or if she is being arrested by the state.
The book itself does not end there. It was revealed that Offred’s story was the reading of a cassette. The cassette was read in a historical association in the year 2195 which was studying a period in history known as the Gilead Period. It is revealed indirectly that the republic of Gilead soon fell after the events in the tape and that a more just and equal form of government was established after that.
Relevance to the Present
Published in the 1980s, the book is even more relevant now than when it first came out. Few novels can capture the feeling of political frustration that the women and Americans are feeling now as the book by Atwood.
Many women felt as if their lives had been taken over by a revolution when Donal Trump was elected into the presidency in 2016. Trump who has publicly boasted about harassing women and has publicly insulted others for their looks seems like the personification of a movement that was ready to take back the rights of women through years of hard fighting. Trump has awakened a legion of followers who see nothing wrong in objectifying women and in misogyny.
It is amazing to learn that when Atwood first published the novel, there were a lot of people who were trying to downplay the possibilities that it was raising. They said that seeing a religious organization take over the government would be impossible in America or that there is no chance that women would lose their rights and be forced to bear children.
The events in recent years are proving them wrong and more and more people are seeing Handmaid’s Tale for what it truly is, a prophecy and a warning to what might become of our society if we are not careful.
The book has won acclaim and has sold well. It is the most well-known among Atwood’s works and she is a very prolific writer. More interest in the book was generated when a TV show that was based on it was produced by Hulu.
Unsurprisingly, the book has generated a great deal of controversy and it has even been banned in some cases. Some argue about how the book should be classified, saying that it’s not a work of science fiction. There are more who say that the work is anti-religious or even anti-Christian and that is why it has been banned in some cases.
Another objection that many find regarding the work is the description of adults and sexual scenes and the way that it handled adult themes within the book.
Altogether, it is not surprising that those who are offended and hurt by the truths revealed in The Handmaid’s Tale would try to get it censored and banned. That is what happens to all great works of literature, they offend those in power.
Their objections do not matter. The strengthening of the feminist movement and women’s right will continue and it is with works like The Handmaid’s Tale, that more people will become part of the struggle.