It’s been about a month since I finished this book and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me stiff throughout the whole thing. In times like these, when our right to be considered human beings is being threatened so violently, worlds like Margaret Atwood’s become too real. Thanks to our proud pussy-grabber of a president and his loyal band of Nazi wannabes, America feels like Gilead these days. Sometimes, I find myself day dreaming about a future where I, like Offred, will somberly reflect upon a past where I was still a second-class citizen, but still somewhat independent.
I don’t say this last sentence to be melodramatic; I say it because there’s something truly poignant about a captivity narrative where the protagonist remembers what it was like to be free and reminds us of how we can take our liberties for granted. You might be asking what makes Atwood’s book stand out in this sense, and I believe it’s the fact that she creates a dystopia out of cultural practices that have existed in America at various points. If they’ve happened before, who’s to say they cannot happen again?
In any case, I loved this book and since some time has passed since finishing it, I’m comfortable in my decision to call it an all-time favorite book. I couldn’t put it down as soon as I started it and once I finished it, I felt like a different person than I was before I started it. I don’t think it made me more “woke” about gender issues because let’s face it: I’m a woman in a society that doesn’t respect my mind, my body, or my rights. We might be in a free society but for a woman, this world is still a freaking dystopian nightmare. I was nonetheless affected by how Atwood subtly drew attention to certain aspects of modern womanhood which we either don’t think about very much or have just accepted as the “way it is”. For instance, the historian at the end writes off Offred’s account as an inconsequential narrative that fails to truly describe what life was like in Gilead. He says, “She could have told us much about the workings of the Gileadean empire, had she had the instincts of a reporter or a spy”. My annotation on this passage reads, “HELLO? SHE DID EXACTLY THAT”. But of course, he doesn’t think her story is valid because her observations as a handmaid are limited to domestic life, grocery stores, of course the monthly consent-free fuck ceremony. In other words, women don’t have valid perspectives, stories, observations, or opinions. If you don’t think this isn’t an aspect of modern womanhood, it’s time you made an effort to become woke yourself. Furthermore, with a mentality such as this still in place long after the fall of Gilead, it’s obvious that a society like it could indeed be created again and probably with even less effort than last time. It’s without question more than possible and in fact, I wonder if its more of a certainty.
I’m passionate about this book because it’s extremely relevant today and because it gives readers a glimpse into the reality of being a woman today, despite the dystopian setting. I’m making my boyfriend read this book and I encourage all men to read it as well. Women can read this book and see Gilead a world that is faintly recognizable; men can read this book and see how privileged they are, how sadistic their crimes against us can be, and how more than ever, we need people in positions of power (who are most often men) to make an effort to stamp out out our culture’s misogyny. This is a book men should read because it provides a brief glimpse of the repression their moms, girlfriends, wives, friends, and daughters face every day.
I look back on this book and remember how horrifying it was to bear witness to such a world, and how much of a nightmare it would be to exist within it. That’s just the bottom line of my experience of it, though. The book has definitely inspired me to become louder in speaking for those who are silenced, more resilient in the face of incredible opposition, and more determined in my endeavor to change my own narrative from one of mere survival to absolute empowerment. The Handmaid’s Tale may be about what our reality is, but its significance is that it reminds us of our duty to resist what we cannot accept. Now, more than ever, our society must do exactly that.