Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Publisher Information: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986

Source: Purchased

Synopsis: The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.


While this primarily be a Teen/Juvi blog, I really wanted to do a review on The Handmaid’s Tale.  I first read this book in my high school years (though not for school), so I guess even though you wouldn’t find this in the Teen or YA section in a bookstore, it is appropriate for older teens to read.  I would almost argue that all older teens should read this book at least once.

Published in 1986, Margaret Atwood’s story Is set in the Republic of Gilead.  We know it is in the US, I assume it is in the Northeast.  We are introduced to Offred, the main character of the story.  She is a handmaid, a woman whose sole purpose is to reproduce.  Handmaids are assigned to households, usually a high ranking military officer and his wife; there she is expected to participate in the “ceremony” and through that become pregnant.  If a pregnancy goes full term with a child at the end of nine months, the child is given to the married couple and the handmaid goes to another household.  There is only one purpose for handmaids and it is to have a child.

Through her masterful storytelling, we get to see glimpses of the life Offred led before her current position.  We know that the world was not always like this, and mirrored more what we know today.  Women had jobs, their own lives and money.  She had a marriage and a child with her husband (which could be an indication of why she was a handmaid now given that she already had shown she was capable of reproducing); she had friends.  One of the most frightening things about this book for me was the scenes that showed her past life and how easily it was all taken away.  She lost her job, along with all the other women in the office she worked in, had her bank account frozen and then assets transferred to her husband.  His willingness to accept these actions as well as her own is not something that I see as being so farfetched.  It wasn’t that bad, they still had the money, it would all get straightened out at some point, these things seem to be arguments that could be said in the current climate.

I don’t want to give away too much here, as I don’t want to spoil anything for those that haven’t read the book or may be looking forward to the new Hulu series coming out.  I will say, however, that the ending is certainly open for debate and I am always interested in hearing about what people think about it as well we what they think it means.  This book is a scary glimpse of what can happen when we as a people become too apathetic; I hope more people read this whether it is for the first time or the thirtieth.  The themes and the symbolism is something we so badly need to be reminded of.


Recommended For: I would say 15 and up

Rating: 5 stars.

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