In the not-so-distant future, the world as we know it has ended. We are no longer a democracy; instead, the Republic of Gilead reigns. Within Gilead, there are Commanders, Wives, Marthas and Handmaids. Commanders help run the country; wives, dressed in robin’s egg blue, support the Commanders; Marthas keep the home; and Handmaids have the babies.
Each month, a Ceremony is performed in which the Commander, his wife and their assigned Handmaid gather. The Handmaid is held on the bed while the Commander performs his duty to create life.
Gilead came about because of the sharp decline in the population and because a select groups disliked the direction the country was going in. In Gilead, fertile women are made into Handmaids and are given to childless Commanders. The Republic of Gilead cites the story in Genesis where Rachel gives her servant, or handmaid, Bilhah, to Jacob because she cannot have children as justification for the creation of the Handmaids.
The Handmaids are not allowed close relations with basically anyone, are not allowed to be out in public alone, are not allowed to leave without being assigned to a new Commander and are summarily dealt with if after three postings, they don’t conceive a child.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is told from the point-of-view of Offred, so named because her Commander’s name is Fred. The reader never knows Offred’s actually name, and her story is told in bits and pieces. Later, the reader learns that Offred’s story was originally recorded on cassette tapes and written down by scholars.
The reader learns the trials and tribulations of Offred, the horrors of Gilead and the fragmented stories of those affected by the Republic of Gilead.
What is so incredibly terrifying about “The Handmaid’s Tale” is that everything that Margret Atwood is writing about has happened in some culture, in some time period, somewhere.
The novel is slow at times because the life of a Handmaid is fairly boring. The girls don’t do much during the day except for grocery shop. Offred does have many, many interesting things happen to her that the reader gets to know about. But sometimes it take a while to get there.
If you’ve watched the Hulu series, you should definitely read Atwood’s novel. If you haven’t watched the Hulu series, you definitely should read Atwood’s novel, and then watch the Hulu series. Both the novel and the television show are amazing, and both desperately need to be consumed especially in today’s world where something like this doesn’t seem so far fetched.