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The Handmaid's Tale Book Review

Essay by   •  March 11, 2011  •  Book/Movie Report  •  675 Words (3 Pages)  •  1,560 Views

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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is set in the futuristic Republic of Gilead, which was formerly the United States. In the book, at some point in the future, conservative Christians take control of the United States and establish a dictatorship. Most women in Gilead are infertile after repeated exposure to nuclear waste, pesticides or leakages from chemical weapons. The novel takes the form of a memoir by one of the handmaids, the few fertile women who are taken to camps and trained to be these birth-mothers for the upper-class. Infertile lower-class women are sent either to clean up toxic waste or to become "Marthas," who are house servants. No women in the Republic are permitted to be openly sexual, because sex is strictly for reproduction only. The government declares this a feminist upgrading on the sexual politics of the present when women are seen as sex objects.

The novel focuses on one handmaid named Offred. She, along with all the other handmaids, is given the name of the man whose children she is expected to bear - she is of Fred. Offred became a handmaid after an attempt to escape with her daughter and husband from Gilead. They failed, however, and her daughter was given away to a needy woman in the upper classes, and Offred does not know whether her husband is alive or dead, whether he was captured or has escaped. Offred is in the service of the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Serena Joy hates that she is unable to bear children and hates Offred for taking her husband seed. If Offred does not become pregnant promptly, Serena Joy will undoubtedly take revenge by sending her away to likely work in the toxic Colonies.

Offred does not become pregnant after several attempts, but she does develop an unforeseen relationship with the Commander. He plays games of Scrabble with her, which she finds particularly exceptional because all forms of writing are officially denied to handmaids and other lower-class women, and gives her gifts of cosmetics and old fashion magazines which are also banned. One night he even dresses her in a cocktail dress and takes her to an illegal nightclub where Offred runs into an old female friend named Moira who is now a prostitute in the club.

Serena Joy, who is dreadfully desperate for children, finally arranges for Offred to sleep with the chauffeur, Nick without letting the Commander know. The two become happy together, and she thinks she is pregnant.

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