The Handmaids Tale
Margaret Atwood

by contributor

Jack Shields

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Overview
Author
Margaret Atwood
Year Published
1985
Type
Novel
Genre
Utopian and dystopian fiction
About the Title

The Handmaid?s Tale is a dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood, based around life in the Republic of Gilead, an area formally known as the United States ? which has been overtaken by a strict, religious regime. This new regime brings about an increase in social unrest, and it is at this period that there is a decline in childbirth. As a result, women are trained to become handmaids, and are assigned to elite couples for to bear children for them. Atwood sets her novel around one handmaid, Offred, who is assigned to serve the Commander as well as his wife and help them give birth to a child. The Commander?s wife, Serena, in the time before the Republic was a former advocate for ?traditional values?, and a famous televangelist. Every month, Offred is forced to have sex with the Commander as Serena holds her hand while sitting behind her. In addition to this, Offred?s life is extremely restricted, and she is only allowed to visit specific places, while under the supervision of Gilead?s secret police force. It is crucial to note that Offred was once married and had a daughter of her own. However, during the time when Gilead?s architects were rising to power, they tried to flee the country but were caught, and she was separated from them (Atwood, 2004).

There are a couple of themes which are present in the Handmaid?s tale, as derived from various characters such as Offred, Serena, Gilead, Nick, and Ofglen (Atwood, 2004). For instance, women?s bodies being used as political instruments. Gilead?s founders took advantage of the increased levels of childlessness, and suppressed women?s right as a means to gain and stay in power. Atwood emphasises the power of language throughout the novel with the Republic of Gilead inventing their own official vocabulary, whereby men are defined according to their military ranks, and women according to their gender roles.

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