‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ review
Statement of intent:
“We are containers, it is only the insides of our bodies that is important.” The novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a challenging but worthwhile read that brings to the readers attention some of the harsh realities for women in both past and present societies, enhancing it with a story line from a dystopian totalitarian society. The book in particular highlights the use of women’s bodies as a tool and the treatment of women themselves as objects, and this is shown through symbolism, biblical allusions, as well as the use of different sentence structures and the first person writing technique from Offred’s point of view. Atwood has written the book with the purpose of shedding light on real world issues through a gripping novel.
Freedom: the power or right to act, think or to speak as one wants. Freedom is a value most often taken for granted by those who have it and something of which is yearned for by those who do not possess it. It is a quality that can be given or taken away easily, and who has freedom is decided by how much power a person possesses. In particular, females in past and present society have always struggled for freedom of their bodies and their minds, an example of this being women in Saudi Arabian society even today. Similarities between Saudi women and Handmaids in the book include being the ‘possessions’ of males, not being allowed to show any part of their body that is not their face and are not allowed outdoors without an escort. The harsh reality of the oppression of Saudi women is one that is not spoken about in great amounts in today’s society, and Atwood has brought this issue to the forefront by drawing similarities between the two.
Atwood has also highlighted the issue of women in society and how they are oppressed as they do not have the power to act or speak as they would like to, through the handmaids, as their bodies are used as “a national resource”. Oppression of the Handmaids freedom is shown through Atwood’s use of the color red in the handmaids dresses as a symbol of fertility, as their primary use is to reproduce, and also menstrual blood which is a sign of failure for the handmaids. The color red shows that the handmaids are thought of as subhuman, and their freedom is taken away from them as they are being utilized only for reproduction.
Another way that Atwood has brought forward the issue of the oppression of women in society is through the use of a mix of short and complex sentences and first person writing. She writes from Offred’s point of view, “I want Luke here so badly. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways I that am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name, remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me.” This passage and its use of different sentence styles is sharp and intense and reminds the reader of how easily freedom can be taken away, how a women can be reduced to an ’empty vessel’ in an instant by men. Offred’s only freedom is her thoughts as she does not have control over anything else in her life. Like many instances in society, Offred does not act out for fear of those controlling her, she must act in accordance to the rules as she has seen through other women, such as Moira when she was beaten, that if she does not follow rules she will be punished. Atwood has purposefully added this aspect of fear of punishment from those who have control over them, such as the commanders or aunts in the book to show the total lack of control the Handmaid’s have over their own lives, and this is what makes the book thrilling, as the reader does not only sympathize with the Handmaid’s plight but also feels fear for the handmaids and fear of the forever seemingly imminent danger of having their freedom taken from them too.
Atwood achieves her purpose of bringing the oppression of women and the use of women’s bodies as a tool to the forefront in the book. She does this with a sophisticated and somewhat different tone to most books with her use of first person writing accompanied by flash backs to Offred’s past life, but this is what makes it all the more of a compelling read. She interweaves issues from past and present past and present societies, which has what has drawn the readers mind to Saudi Arabian women and how they are treated.