The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

February 11, 2019 § Leave a comment

First published in English in 1986

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Our narrator is a woman, and Handmaid, who lives in the home of her Commander and his Wife, along with two Marthas and one Guardian. The two Marthas do all of the housework, from cleaning to cooking and everything else in between. The Wife, well, she mostly sits and knits, or tends to her garden. The only two men in the house, the Commander and the Guardian, well, what they spend their time doing is not mentioned much, as our narrator, our Handmaid, does not have the freedom to roam about and observe what everyone is doing. She only ever gets to leave the house to go to the market, to purchase with vouchers what the Marthas say they need in the kitchen. She walks past checkpoints, keeps her head down, and waits a the corner of the same street every day, until a second Handmaid, her partner, appears, so that they may go to the market together.

And then, once a month, our narrator, our Handmaid, goes into the Commander’s room, with his Wife, hoping to get pregnant. After all, she is a Handmaid, our narrator, and her main role is to produce the next generation, especially in a world where the world population is in dire straits.

Women are no longer required, or expected, to do everything. Not like in our world today, where we are expected to be wives, sisters, daughters and mothers. Where we are expected to  climb the corporate ladder just like the men, while at the same time take care of the home and the kids, while tending to our parents. We’re expected to be able to juggle work and family, and look perfect at the same time.

No, in this world, in the Republic of Gilead, women don’t have to do it all. In fact, women don’t even need to earn a wage, or read, or think.

I’m reading this book for the second time. The book is still powerful, the ridiculousness still impacts me. Yet I think this time, the book felt different, also. Perhaps it’s the years in between (it’s been about 8 years), and the experiences that I’ve had, that colour how I read it this time. I saw not only how the women and the world was portrayed, but also how our narrator, our Handmaid, felt throughout her narration.

She no longer came across as aloof and far away. She no longer felt resigned to her fate. She felt to me a silently strong woman; a woman who knew she didn’t have the strength to fight the world; a woman who knew she didn’t want to lose herself despite being unable to change the world; a woman who did whatever she could, no matter how inconsequential, to make sure she knew who she was.

It was like she was saying to me, there are still some liberties that they will never be able to take from us, without really saying it to me at all.

Our narrator, our Handmaid, refused to give us her name. And I think this is what I want to believe: her name, her real name, is the only thing she has left that really belongs to her. Telling it means giving it to us. Keeping it a secret, and repeating it to herself everyday, meant that she held on to that one thing that belonged to her, to the end of her life.

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