The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
To call The Handmaid’s Tale a dystopian novel would be to do it a disservice: while the near-future mockery of American society in which the novel is set does, technically, fall under that category, the freedom-fighting and romantic entanglements that we’ve come to associate with the genre have no place in this book. On its surface, the story follows Offred, a young woman assigned to a high-ranking official in the Republic of Gilead and tasked with bearing him children. With birthrates falling below crisis level, Offred and the other “handmaids” of this brutal patriarchy represent the society’s only hope, but Gilead’s fanatical and fundamentalist codes of conduct force all women into submission, their lives characterized only by traumatic memories and a fervent hope for pregnancy. Atwood intends this novel, it seems, to be a thought experiment that extends systemic gender inequalities and the “family values” that perpetuate them to their most oppressive extremes, which may explain why Gilead is sometimes so hard to distinguish from the postmodern America it replaced. The novel’s dystopian conceit is so complete that its cast of characters tends to feel more like symbols than humans in their own right; still, The Handmaid’s Tale achieves a level of social-justice-minded indignation that very few other works of science fiction manage to attain.
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