The Handmaids Tale
Margaret Atwood

by contributor

Jack Shields

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Reviews

Mary McCarthy

McCarthy, M. (2018). Book Review. Retrieved from https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/00/03/26/specials/mccarthy- atwood.html?module=inline

Mary McCarthy sees ‘The Handmaid's Tale’ as a forecast of what is likely to happen to people in the near future. She points out the current intolerance that is directed towards abortion clinics as well as toward homosexuals (McCarthy, 2018). In addition to this, she points an accusing finger toward small-town schoolteachers, and high school libraries for leading a “super-biblical puritanism” in which procreation is insisted, whereas, reading of any kind is prohibited. According to her, the Handmaid’s Tale is primarily a woman’s world regardless of the fact that it is governed and policed by men. Most of the ethos is mainly domestic, and females are divided into classes according to their household function. She states that the author of the book has drawn from contemporary trends as there is nothing written in the book that the United States does not know already. She also believes that the world outside the Republic of Gilead is insufficiently imagined. McCarthy is also critical of the Aunts stating that they do not belong to the present, or future worlds; rather they belong to the past. She also notes that the characterization in the book is weak, as she feels like it is difficult to differentiate Luke from Nick, and the character of the Commander is not drawn out enough.

I concur with the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale is a forecast of what is likely to happen in the future. Just as in the Republic of Gilead, women have not yet gained full control of their reproductive rights (McCarthy, 2018). The issue of homosexuality has also been taken up by many in politics, with some states legalizing homosexuality, and others making it illegal.

The New York Times

Atwood, M. (2018). Margaret Atwood on What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Means in the Age of Trump. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/books/review/margaret- atwood-handmaids-tale-age-of-trump.html

According to Margret Atwood, the Republic of Gilead is primarily founded on the 17th Century Puritan roots that lay underneath modern-day America (Atwood, 2018). She compares the population shrinking due to environmental toxins in the book with studies carried out showing a sharp decrease in fertility among Chinese men. Where totalitarianism is present, the elite class rules over the rest of the population. She introduces some of the Aunts with different perspectives, and personalities, some believing that they are doing the handmaid’s a favour by implementing the rules, while others are sadistic opportunists.  She also points out the fact that the dominant religion in the book goes on to seize and control other doctrines in order to gain control.

Undoubtedly, from her review, we can see how relatable the Handmaid’s Tale is, as it is based on some of the things that people do on a daily basis. For instance, increased chemical production in China has resulted in the increased number of infertile men. In addition to this, religion has become a strong tool in the socialization process. People tend to confer more with practices that are recommended by their religion. Thus, some dominant religions take it upon themselves to fight for the rights of minorities as they have significant influence. In addition to the above, like the Aunt characters present in the book, there are women who think that by standing with a government similar to Gilead, they are doing their fellow women a favour.

Pat Stacey

Stacey, P. (2018). The Handmaid's Tale review: 'It succeeds spectacularly on every level' - Independent.ie. Retrieved from https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tv- reviews/the-handmaids-tale-review-it-succeeds-spectacularly-on-every-level- 35765634.html

Similarly, Pat Stacey views The Handmaid’s Tale as a portrait of America’s future where democracy will be overthrown by totalitarianism at a time when Christian fundamentalist theocracies will be dominant, and that the political party that emerges will almost certainly try to subjugate women. According to her, the fact that handmaids would lie passively with their heads placed at the laps of the wives while the husbands had sex with them, is “rape grotesque parody of lovemaking” (Stacey, 2018). She feels that in the present times, the United States is under the leadership of a sexist narcissist whose intent is only to wage war against liberal democracy. Thus, like in Gilead Republican, the United States may fall into a regime controlled by “Old-Testament –inspired religious” as well as social fanatics (Stacey, 2018).

The possibility that the United States could be trampled over by totalitarianism is a viable one. As noted by Pat Stacey, the current leaders in place are mostly opportunistic, and this makes it an easy goal for them to follow the totalitarian ideology (Stacey, 2018). The act committed against the handmaids is primarily rape as it was done against the will of these women. Thus, irrespective of the government legalizing these acts, they were going against basic human rights.

Carolyn Kane

Kane, C. (2018). Book Review: 'The Handmaid’s Tale' - Door County Pulse. Retrieved from https://doorcountypulse.com/book-review-the-handmaids-tale/

Carolyn Kanes notes that in the Handmaid’s Tale, the handmaid’s job is to produce a child for the husband, however in this world, men are not considered infertile, all the blame shouldered by women (Kane, 2018). Through Offred’s memories and thoughts, one is able to learn about the rise of the Republic of Gilead, her failed attempt to escape to Canada as well as her re-education at the Red Center. She feels that the books continuous flashbacks might confuse some of the readers to some extent. Nonetheless, she notes that the book itself is not a feminist manifesto, although in Gilead men’s lives are of a high standard compared to women.  This is, however, counteracted by the fact that the Commander, who initially has power, turns out to be a pathetic figure that is even afraid of his own circumstances. Offred is hardly considered to be a feminist heroine, but rather an ordinary woman who wants nothing more than a better job, and a family.

In many societies, many women were blamed for infertility without considering the possibility that fault could lie with the man. However, in the Commanders case, he could not conceive with either Offred or his wife, suggesting that he was sterile. Each chapter in the book is unique, with some beginning with Offred’s flashbacks or thoughts. Thus, for a reader who is not deeply involved with the novel, there is likely to be a deal of confusion. Nonetheless, the book is clear, and relatable, and cannot be classified as a feminist manifesto. Essentially, in the book, there is no character that is considered too good, or too evil.

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