The Handmaid’s Tale

​Offred is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, which was once a part of America. As a handmaid, her job consists of going outside once a day to shop for food for the home of her Commander, his wife, and the two Marthas, who are the women who clean and cook for the Commander and his wife. When she does this chore she must wait for another handmaid as they are only allowed to walk in groups of two, and they walk to town where the signs are pictures now instead of words. Women are no longer allowed to read. Offred and her handmaid companions pay for their food by way of tokens, because money is no longer valid in Gilead and women are no longer allowed to have money or make money of their own. 
As Offred and her walking companion go home they walk by The Wall, a place were they see the dead bodies of religious priests, people caught engaging in love affairs, and dissents. When Offred returns home she rests until the next days journey to town. Offred and the other handmaids are not allowed to drink, smoke, consume caffeine, or engage in excessive extracurricular activities, because it is thought those would effect their health. They are also not allowed to commit suicide and so their rooms have no glass in them or anything that could be turned into a blade. Baths and toliet times are also regulated. 
The handmaids are to undergo health screenings once a month to see if they are pregnant and to make sure they are healthy. The doctors sometimes make offers of sex to the women out of pity. Why? Because the handmaids have an important function in Gilead. They are the fertile few who will help reverse the declining birth rates that effect Gilead. They are to participate in a ceremony each month in which the handmaids lie on their backs between the legs of their Commander’s wife while the Commander tries to impregnate his handmaid. This is the reason the handmaids are highly valued, they have viable ovaries and are Gilead’s only hope for children. If a handmaid gets pregnant and gives birth, there is a chance the child could be deformed or imperfect. This happens fairly often. If a handmaid is able to give birth they will never risk being sent to The Colonies, a place where people are either forced to clear away the radioactive waste or forced to farm for Gilead. 
Offred remembers the time before when she went to college and had a job. She made money on her own, had unlimited access to knowledge and was allowed to smoke, drink, and consume caffeine. She remembers her husband, Luke, and their daughter. She remembers making love with Luke and giving her daughter baths. She especially remembers the day her daughter was taken from her and Luke disappeared. The life she had before is gone now and all she is left with are the memories.
The book, especially at the beginning, mainly focuses on Offred’s thoughts and memories. At times it is hard to discern between what is present and what is past. It is also hard to tell what is true and what is made up in her mind, as at times she admits she doesn’t remember what happened and what she made up in her mind. As discovered in the end, Offred used fake names throughout the book and didn’t speak her own name. The book is presented as a memoir and in the end you leave the book not knowing much more than what you knew going into the book. Offred is a vague, unreliable protagonist and is very scattered at times in her writing. 
I loved how Offred presented her story as a back and forth narrative between the present and the past and her hope for the future, but I had issues as her as a protagonist. She did something that not a lot of protagonists in modern books do: she gave up. She didn’t fight back or try to escape. She accepted her position and only mildly disobeyed, and even that disobedience was at the insistence of the Commander and/or his wife. The book was also depressing and offered little hope for a good outcome, as I believe Offred died at the end of the novel. This book would definitely not be something I would recommend reading in one sitting. I tried and ended up so depressed I had to stop reading. 
Besides those issues, I wholeheartedly believe this book is something that needs to be read, especially in today’s time. No matter your views on the future of America, the important aspect of this book is what could happen if people’s rights were taken away, something that could happen at any moment either today or 100 years in the future. It’s important to read books like these in order to be remembered that our rights can be taken away as easily as they were given to us and that’s something all people should be weary of.

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