Friday Reading

Friday Reading: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I think I’m a Margaret Atwood fan. I never get tired of her Variations poems, and her novels The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace are contemporary favorites of mine.

I started reading The Handmaid’s Tale ages ago until I lost the book in the middle of reading it — so here I am, starting again. At least reading it this time around made me notice the things Atwood’s writing is famous for: the strongly juxtaposed imagery, her play on words, the voice of the female protagonist, her brand of stream of consciousness. Sometimes I feel as though parts of the novel is a poem.

A bonus: this is a dystopian novel, one of my favorite kinds. It shows a bleak future in which there are sectarian wars and women cannot breed as easily because of chemicals in the air. (Agent Orange is mentioned, making me think that Atwood is making a comment against the Vietnam War, among other things. This book was first published in 1985 after all.) Thus, the government made several changes in the people’s way of life: women were more protected, but they cannot hope to have any unsanctioned relationships. The protagonist, Offred, is a handmaid — she is hired to bear the child of a commander. She is not a prostitute or any such object of desire; on the contrary, she is made to be merely a “vessel on two legs”. But she remembers a time when she had a husband and a child, and a best friend, and so far she does not know where they are or if they are still alive.

A quote to make us think: “There is more than one kind of freedom…. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” Which would you rather have? Where do you draw the line?

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