Why "The Handmaid’s Tale" is a Must-Read

In an English class last year, I read The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. Atwood illustrates a society taken over by oppressors who use women for their bodies and reproductive abilities. I believe this novel is crucial for people to read, especially women. I want to highlight some of the main reasons why this book grasped my attention, and why it will grasp yours too.

  1. In Gilead, the society where The Handmaid’s Tale takes place, women are solely valued for their ability to reproduce. They have no rights and freedom is a seven-letter word that does not exist for women, solely men. These women are forced into sexual relations with men, called commanders, in order to bear children. Offred, the protagonist, describes her role as a handmaid perfectly stating, “it has nothing to do with passion or love or romance or any of those other notions we used to titillate ourselves with. It has nothing to do with sexual desire, at least for me, and certainly not for Serena” (Atwood 94). Ultimately, women have absolutely no authority over their own bodies or identities. Although the society in the novel is not ours exactly, there are many similarities as Atwood effectively draws a parallel between Gilead to our country today.
  2. In edition to being relevant to women’s rights, this novel also places significance on the struggle of the LGBTQ community. Atwood sheds light on this issue by portraying homosexuality as a crime in Gilead. Today, the fight of the LGBTQ community is very much at the forefront of our discourse. In many countries, being gay continues to be seen as a punishable crime. Atwood attempts to show her readers that this plight cannot be disregarded. 
  3. One of the most powerful aspects in this novel is the idea of religion influencing politics. Gilead is led by Christians who utilize their religion to create a place completely controlled by men. They claim the incorporation of religion as the preeminent focus in society is to revert the community to more “traditional” times. However, what happens instead is that women are stripped of their freedom due to the men's interpretation of biblical texts. Specific parts of the Bible are used to the men’s advantage and women’s disadvantage. This can be seen when religion is used to condone adultery for the purpose of childbirth. Furthermore, this newfound interpretation supports the abolishment of women rights. Atwood shows just how destructive religion can be and its ramifications on people’s lives. This leads the reader to wonder how this text serves as a warning to our country.
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale is extremely relevant when examining our country today. Atwood portrays a dystopian world not unlike our own, highlighting the issues society is perpetually struggling with. For example, although women have gained freedom in the past few decades, there is still far more sexism alive than we want to admit. This sexism is exemplified in how women within The Handmaid’s Tale are commodified and objectified by men. Secondly, in Gilead, African Americans are removed by government sanctions effectively making visible the racism still prevalent in America. Our country, although not as extreme, is constantly overlooking racial tensions and racist actions. Third, women in Gilead are blamed for any act of sexual assault that they experience. This is an enormous issue today, where all too frequently, victims of sexual assault are blamed.

Although written thirty years ago, The Handmaid’s Tale is our past, present and potentially, our future. Margaret Atwood’s novel serves as a warning; that America is not far-removed from becoming a society like Gilead. Thus, it is essential individuals become more aware and act. My hope is this book inspires more and more people to be courageous and fight against any oppression they may experience. The society of Gilead is supposed to be dystopian…but it made me wonder, how far off is it from the world we live in today?

 

 

Sources:

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. 1985.