The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood | Review
Publication: New York : Anchor Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 1998 (Original publication by McClelland and Stewart in 1985)
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
It’s certainly true (from water-cooler discussions, social media trends, and the recent Supreme Court Justice nominee silent protests) Hulu and Elisabeth Moss’s revitalization of this classic has the more feminine-leaning of our society solemnly cheering with the hope that humanity might finally be on the verge of understanding the terror that is living in a female body. (Thank goodness there are some of the more male-leaning persuasion within our society who also understand this sentiment.)
I remember being assigned Atwood’s speculative novel in one of my many literature classes at my Christian college (nearly fifteen years ago now…I’ll revisit such time comparisons when I’m in my later years and feel more pride at the accomplishment of distance) and not being able to finish the book for some reason. I remember that reason being fraught with a deep-seated fear, but I couldn’t ever describe exactly why. I’ve since been ashamed at my inability to look such horrors as organized rape in the face, chalking it up to my delicate conservative upbringing.
Are you tired of hearing me go on and on about this topic? Well, that makes two of us, friend. Yet, herein lies the rub. Conservatism seems to have created an excuse of comfortable safety by which to turn our backs on reality (or maybe this is just a natural reaction from some of us who’ve had the grossness of reality shoved too often in our faces; I get that). However, when I finally worked up the nerve to revisit the Handmaid’s world, I realized this story contains a reality that we have to stop ignoring if we’re going to change the ugliness we’ve been trying to avoid.
Why was such a book even posted as part of the syllabus at a highly conservative institution as my Christian college? Well, maybe because there’s no such thing as “us and them” in real life, and literature is very good at seeing this. The professor who included Atwood’s book seemed one of those who understands this idea, as I vaguely remember the discussions that surrounded this book were geared more towards comments on how a society can so easily be swept into self-serving prejudices and abuses of power.
I’m grateful for the revitalizing conversation the televised version of Atwood’s book has created, but if you really want to look the truth of what sexual abuse is and the how the warping of its allowances can devastate a society in the face, give Atwood her due and read this book all the way through. She even ends the book on the note of hope our current #MeToo movement has been grappling to obtain these last couple years, which I pray earnestly that whatever god (this probably means it’s up to you and me, friend) may still be putting up with the ridiculousness of our species might help us make into a new reality.