Sunday, May 6, 2007

Thoughts on "The Handmaid's Tale"

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

My Rating:

I will never look at my credit cards the same way again. It was so easy to cut women off from their freedom: shut off their credit cards and disable their bank accounts. That's it, you are trapped. This was a sharp warning to women to protect their own well-being and to remain vigilant about protecting their rights and freedoms. I heard Atwood say on "Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason" that there is nothing in this book that has not actually happened somewhere in the world.

The story is about a woman whose world slowly closes in on her as a Bible reading religious group takes over America. She never calls them the religious right but it is very easy to jump to that conclusion. One day she is a educated middle class woman with a job and family and the next she is running to get out of the country to Canada. She is caught and sent to a re-education center where she is trained to be a Handmaid, a woman who breeds children for childless wives.

About half way through the book, to my horror, I began to recognize the setting of the book. It was my hometown of Cambridge, MA! The area where the main character shops is Harvard Square, the re-education center is Memorial Hall, the yard where the executions occur is Harvard yard, and the wall where traitors are hung is right outside Harvard yard where I used to wait for the bus to go home after school. These places are not abstract to me; these are places that I've been to, and touched, and sat down in.

Another thing that I noticed was the isolation of the men. Even though this setup was clearly to their benefit, the men seemed so lonely and in deep need of female companionship. They have lulled themselves into believing that sex and food is all that women can provide. But in this situation they find that it is a woman's mind that they miss the most. In this context it is not surprising that "the commander" calls the main character down to meet him secretly, not for sex — he is already getting that — but to play scrabble with her.

Margaret Atwood is so astute to remind us that men need from us is our intellect as well as our bodies. That without us this is a very cold uncertain world. They need the way we get to them in just "that way." They way we smile at them willingly and with joy. The way we hold them and make them laugh. It is hard for some men to admit that it is these intangibles that they desire from women. It is a crass society that reduces us to mere flesh.

Other "Handmaid's Tale" material:

  • Diane Rehm's Reader's Review on "A Handmaid's Tale"
  • The Film — It was a disappointment. The cast of the film included many talented actors yet the film lack the sense of trapped terror that the book instilled. The scenes of in the bedroom was striking. It is worth watching but I recommend reading the book first.
  • Margaret Atwood on Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason

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