The Handmaids Tale
Margaret Atwood

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Jack Shields

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Historical Context

The Handmaid?s Tale was published in the year 1985, by Alfred A. Knopf. With over two million copies in print, this book remains one of the most compelling novels by Margaret Atwood. Through this book, she has managed to reflect some of the gender inequalities, and stereotyping that was associated with gender roles. She also helps her reader to understand the power of language, and how it can impact people?s lives. The book focuses on the life of Offred, a handmaid who is stripped of her reproductive rights, and personal identity like other women in the time.

The book is set at a period when birth-rates had declined significantly due to several factors (Atwood, 2004). One of the more prominent of these was an increase in pollution, especially chemical spills, that led to many people becoming infertile. The author also states that this was a period where prostitutions was readily available, as well as frequent cases of violence against women. Women were considered to be the subservient sex and reduced to being responsible for bearing children and not much else. In addition to the above, women were not allowed to get jobs, or hold any property. Although most women were against these subjugations, there were others who helped integrate this idea to other women at this time. There was a prescribed way of living for these women, which dictated their movement, and their responsibilities. However, during this period, women were stripped off their reproductive rights, and thus, they could not make any decision pertaining to their reproductive systems.

Current Context

In the 21st Century, people continue to be afraid with regards to the rate of environmental pollution, fertility control as well as gender-based abuse, just like in the 1980?s when the book was written (Laflen, 2007). As seen in the novel, the increased environmental pollution, and chemical spillages were responsible for the increased infertility that was experienced throughout the population.  The current rate of industrialization, and chemical use has escalated significantly, causing worry among people as to the possible effects this may have on people?s health. Moreover, there have been increasingly polarised debates with regards to abortion, with some political figures using this to gain popularity. In some states, abortion is legalised while in other states it is forbidden. As such, just like in the book, women do not have an absolute control over their reproductive rights (Busby & Vun, 2010). In some areas, when women conceive, they are terminated from their positions at work, and have to reapply after giving birth, or look for another job. However, in other regions, they are only given a period off until they deliver, and then resume work. As such, the disparities, as far as women?s reproductive rights are concerned, are present now as they were in the 1980?s or in the novel itself.

The book points out to some of the consequences that might arise as a result of certain people continuing with their current practices. For instance, in contemporary society, many women continue to experience domestic violence silently. Only a small minority have the courage to tell people about their situation and seek help. As such, they end up being oppressed in their own homes. Many times, this is as a result of a fear of what people may perceive, or say about them (Mohr, 2005). Thus, this shows the power of language in propagating some practices. Another key component mirrored in the novel is the fact that the current government continues to withhold a lot of information from the public. In so doing, this gives them power over the masses, just as it is in the case of Gilead, a lot of information was withheld from the citizens.

To a large extent, the inspiration behind both the historical, and the current context of the book is to help people appreciate the need to maintain human rights. That is, that no individual should be mistreated based on their sex, gender, and religious beliefs, ethnicity, or political affiliations. In addition to this, the book tries to bring to attention the importance of maintaining and taking care of the environment to avoid ripple effects associated with mismanaging or abusing the world we live in (Laflen, 2007). For instance, chemical spillages resulted in infertility, which made opportunist factions such as Gilead arise, and oppress people. Therefore, the book seeks to help individuals understand the need to respect people?s rights, and responsibilities in order to have a peaceful, and productive state.

Author?s Biography

Born on November 18, 1939, Ottawa, Margaret Atwood ended up being raised in three different places, Northern Ontario, Quebec as well as Toronto. She attended the University of Toronto in 1961, before gaining a Masters degree at Radcliffe College, Harvard in1962. Atwood is a renowned environment campaigner, and a patron of ?Organization Friend of the Environment,? (Wynne-Davies, 2018).

Throughout her career she has been awarded over fifty-five different awards, some of which are Governor General?s Awards. The first Governor General?s Award was given to her in 1966 for her first book of poems, ?The Circle Game?. The second such award was given to her in 1985 for this novel, ?The Handmaid?s Tale,?. She has also won include the Man Booker Prize, National Book Critics, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the PEN Centre USA Lifetime Achievement Award (Wynne-Davies, 2018).

Not only is she a major public figure, but she is also a political and social commentator. Currently, there is a Margaret Atwood newsletter, a Margaret Atwood Society as well as many professors teaching, and studying her works, in so far as female studies are concerned (Busby & Vun, 2010).

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