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The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale

Автором Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale

Автором Margaret Atwood

4.5/5 (2,087 оценки)
367 pages
6 hours
Feb 17, 1986

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Dystopian classic…

Atwood’s dystopian classic isn’t just an argument for women’s rights, but more generally a brilliant commentary on the effects of dehumanization, of putting law above love, and of the dangers of picking sides and uncritically sticking with them in the first place.


From Scribd: About the Book

A dystopian classic, The Handmaid's Tale is a powerful novel about authoritarianism, identity, and misogyny.

In the near future, the United States has been replaced by the Republic of Gilead, a repressive totalitarian government that comes to prominence as a violent reaction to social unrest and declining birth rates. Gilead holds the Book of Genesis as absolute word, and terroizes all its people-but especially its women, stripping them of their identites and their freedom.

Offred, one of few women still fertile, is a Handmaid in Gilead, forced to serve a powerful Commander and his wife. Her days are simple and monotonous, and her only purpose is to bear the Commander a child.

But Offred hasn't always been Offred. She remembers a time from before, a time when she had freedoms and choice, a time when she was more than a walking reproduction machine. But in Gilead it is dangerous to remember, and dangerous to hope.

The Handmaid's Tale is Margaret Atwood at her best.
Feb 17, 1986

Об авторе

MARGARET ATWOODis the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale (now a Hulu series) and its sequel The Testaments, her novels include The Blind Assassin (winner of the Booker Prize), Alias Grace (winner of the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy), The Robber Bride, Cat’s Eye, The Penelopiad, The Heart Goes Last, and Hag-Seed, a novel revisitation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, for the Hogarth Shakespeare Project. Her latest book of short stories is Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. She is also the author of the graphic novel Angel Cat­bird (with cocreator Johnnie Christmas). Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.  

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The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood





We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone. A balcony ran around the room, for the spectators, and I thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of sweat, shot through with the sweet taint of chewing gum and perfume from the watching girls, felt-skirted as I knew from pictures, later in miniskirts, then pants, then in one earring, spiky green-streaked hair. Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made of tissue-paper flowers, cardboard devils, a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers with a snow of light.

There was old sex in the room and loneliness, and expectation, of something without a shape or name. I remember that yearning, for something that was always about to happen and was never the same as the hands that were on us there and then, in the small of the back, or out back, in the parking lot, or in the television room with the sound turned down and only the pictures flickering over lifting flesh.

We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability? It was in the air; and it was still in the air, an afterthought, as we tried to sleep, in the army cots that had been set up in rows, with spaces between so we could not talk. We had flannelette sheets, like children’s, and army-issue blankets, old ones that still said U.S. We folded our clothes neatly and laid them on the stools at the ends of the beds. The lights were turned down but not out. Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrolled; they had electric cattle prods slung on thongs from their leather belts.

No guns though, even they could not be trusted with guns. Guns were for the guards, specially picked from the Angels. The guards weren’t allowed inside the building except when called, and we weren’t allowed out, except for our walks, twice daily, two by two around the football field, which was enclosed now by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The Angels stood outside it with their backs to us. They were objects of fear to us, but of something else as well. If only they would look. If only we could talk to them. Something could be exchanged, we thought, some deal made, some tradeoff, we still had our bodies. That was our fantasy.

We learned to whisper almost without sound. In the semidarkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across space. We learned to lip-read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths. In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed:

Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.




A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in the center of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier, once. They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to.

A window, two white curtains. Under the window, a window seat with a little cushion. When the window is partly open—it only opens partly—the air can come in and make the curtains move. I can sit in the chair, or on the window seat, hands folded, and watch this. Sunlight comes in through the window too, and falls on the floor, which is made of wood, in narrow strips, highly polished. I can smell the polish. There’s a rug on the floor, oval, of braided rags. This is the kind of touch they like: folk art, archaic, made by women, in their spare time, from things that have no further use. A return to traditional values. Waste not want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want?

On the wall above the chair, a picture, framed but with no glass: a print of flowers, blue irises, watercolor. Flowers are still allowed. Does each of us have the same print, the same chair, the same white curtains, I wonder? Government issue?

Think of it as being in the army, said Aunt Lydia.

A bed. Single, mattress medium-hard, covered with a flocked white spread. Nothing takes place in the bed but sleep; or no sleep. I try not to think too much. Like other things now, thought must be rationed. There’s a lot that doesn’t bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last. I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolor picture of blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.

So. Apart from these details, this could be a college guest room, for the less distinguished visitors; or a room in a rooming house, of former times, for ladies in reduced circumstances. That is what we are now. The circumstances have been reduced; for those of us who still have circumstances.

But a chair, sunlight, flowers: these are not to be dismissed. I am alive, I live, I breathe, I put my hand out, unfolded, into the sunlight. Where I am is not a prison but a privilege, as Aunt Lydia said, who was in love with either/or.

The bell that measures time is ringing. Time here is measured by bells, as once in nunneries. As in a nunnery too, there are few mirrors.

I get up out of the chair, advance my feet into the sunlight, in their red shoes, flat-heeled to save the spine and not for dancing. The red gloves are lying on the bed. I pick them up, pull them onto my hands, finger by finger. Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us. The skirt is ankle-length, full, gathered to a flat yoke that extends over the breasts, the sleeves are full. The white wings too are prescribed issue; they are to keep us from seeing, but also from being seen. I never looked good in red, it’s not my color. I pick up the shopping basket, put it over my arm.

The door of the room—not my room, I refuse to say my—is not locked. In fact it doesn’t shut properly. I go out into the polished hallway, which has a runner down the center, dusty pink. Like a path through the forest, like a carpet for royalty, it shows me the way.

The carpet bends and goes down the front staircase and I go with it, one hand on the banister, once a tree, turned in another century, rubbed to a warm gloss. Late Victorian, the house is, a family house, built for a large rich family. There’s a grandfather clock in the hallway, which doles out time, and then the door to the motherly front sitting room, with its flesh tones and hints. A sitting room in which I never sit, but stand or kneel only. At the end of the hallway, above the front door, is a fanlight of colored glass: flowers, red and blue.

There remains a mirror, on the hall wall. If I turn my head so that the white wings framing my face direct my vision towards it, I can see it as I go down the stairs, round, convex, a pier glass, like the eye of a fish, and myself in it like a distorted shadow, a parody of something, some fairy-tale figure in a red cloak, descending towards a moment of carelessness that is the same as danger. A Sister, dipped in blood.

At the bottom of the stairs there’s a hat-and-umbrella stand, the bentwood kind, long rounded rungs of wood curving gently up into hooks shaped like the opening fronds of a fern. There are several umbrellas in it: black, for the Commander, blue, for the Commander’s Wife, and the one assigned to me, which is red. I leave the red umbrella where it is, because I know from the window that the day is sunny. I wonder whether or not the Commander’s Wife is in the sitting room. She doesn’t always sit. Sometimes I can hear her pacing back and forth, a heavy step and then a light one, and the soft tap of her cane on the dusty-rose carpet.

I walk along the hallway, past the sitting room door and the door that leads into the dining room, and open the door at the end of the hall and go through into the kitchen. Here the smell is no longer of furniture polish. Rita is in here, standing at the kitchen table, which has a top of chipped white enamel. She’s in her usual Martha’s dress, which is dull green, like a surgeon’s gown of the time before. The dress is much like mine in shape, long and concealing, but with a bib apron over it and without the white wings and the veil. She puts on the veil to go outside, but nobody much cares who sees the face of a Martha. Her sleeves are rolled to the elbow, showing her brown arms. She’s making bread, throwing the loaves for the final brief kneading and then the shaping.

Rita sees me and nods, whether in greeting or in simple acknowledgment of my presence it’s hard to say, and wipes her floury hands on her apron and rummages in the kitchen drawer for the token book. Frowning, she tears out three tokens and hands them to me. Her face might be kindly if she would smile. But the frown isn’t personal: it’s the red dress she disapproves of, and what it stands for. She thinks I may be catching, like a disease or any form of bad luck.

Sometimes I listen outside closed doors, a thing I never would have done in the time before. I don’t listen long, because I don’t want to be caught doing it. Once, though, I heard Rita say to Cora that she wouldn’t debase herself like that.

Nobody asking you, Cora said. Anyways, what could you do, supposing?

Go to the Colonies, Rita said. They have the choice.

With the Unwomen, and starve to death and Lord knows what all? said Cora. Catch you.

They were shelling peas; even through the almost-closed door I could hear the light clink of the hard peas falling into the metal bowl. I heard Rita, a grunt or a sigh, of protest or agreement.

Anyways, they’re doing it for us all, said Cora, or so they say. If I hadn’t of got my tubes tied, it could of been me, say I was ten years younger. It’s not that bad. It’s not what you’d call hard work.

Better her than me, Rita said, and I opened the door. Their faces were the way women’s faces are when they’ve been talking about you behind your back and they think you’ve heard: embarrassed, but also a little defiant, as if it were their right. That day, Cora was more pleasant to me than usual, Rita more surly.

Today, despite Rita’s closed face and pressed lips, I would like to stay here, in the kitchen. Cora might come in, from somewhere else in the house, carrying her bottle of lemon oil and her duster, and Rita would make coffee—in the houses of the Commanders there is still real coffee—and we would sit at Rita’s kitchen table, which is not Rita’s any more than my table is mine, and we would talk, about aches and pains, illnesses, our feet, our backs, all the different kinds of mischief that our bodies, like unruly children, can get into. We would nod our heads as punctuation to each other’s voices, signaling that yes, we know all about it. We would exchange remedies and try to outdo each other in the recital of our physical miseries; gently we would complain, our voices soft and minor key and mournful as pigeons in the eaves troughs. I know what you mean, we’d say. Or, a quaint expression you sometimes hear, still, from older people: I hear where you’re coming from, as if the voice itself were a traveler, arriving from a distant place. Which it would be, which it is.

How I used to despise such talk. Now I long for it. At least it was talk. An exchange, of sorts.

Or we would gossip. The Marthas know things, they talk among themselves, passing the unofficial news from house to house. Like me, they listen at doors, no doubt, and see things even with their eyes averted. I’ve heard them at it sometimes, caught whiffs of their private conversations. Stillborn, it was. Or, Stabbed her with a knitting needle, right in the belly. Jealousy, it must have been, eating her up. Or, tantalizingly, It was toilet cleaner she used. Worked like a charm, though you’d think he’d of tasted it. Must’ve been that drunk; but they found her out all right.

Or I would help Rita make the bread, sinking my hands into that soft resistant warmth which is so much like flesh. I hunger to touch something, other than cloth or wood. I hunger to commit the act of touch.

But even if I were to ask, even if I were to violate decorum to that extent, Rita would not allow it. She would be too afraid. The Marthas are not supposed to fraternize with us.

Fraternize means to behave like a brother. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororize, it would have to be, he said. From the Latin. He liked knowing about such details. The derivations of words, curious usages. I used to tease him about being pedantic.

I take the tokens from Rita’s outstretched hand. They have pictures on them, of the things they can be exchanged for: twelve eggs, a piece of cheese, a brown thing that’s supposed to be a steak. I place them in the zippered pocket in my sleeve, where I keep my pass.

Tell them fresh, for the eggs, she says. Not like last time. And a chicken, tell them, not a hen. Tell them who it’s for and then they won’t mess around.

All right, I say. I don’t smile. Why tempt her to friendship?


I go out by the back door, into the garden, which is large and tidy: a lawn in the middle, a willow, weeping catkins; around the edges, the flower borders, in which the daffodils are now fading and the tulips are opening their cups, spilling out color. The tulips are red, a darker crimson towards the stem, as if they have been cut and are beginning to heal there.

This garden is the domain of the Commander’s Wife. Looking out through my shatterproof window I’ve often seen her in it, her knees on a cushion, a light blue veil thrown over her wide gardening hat, a basket at her side with shears in it and pieces of string for tying the flowers into place. A Guardian detailed to the Commander does the heavy digging; the Commander’s Wife directs, pointing with her stick. Many of the Wives have such gardens, it’s something for them to order and maintain and care for.

I once had a garden. I can remember the smell of the turned earth, the plump shapes of bulbs held in the hands, fullness, the dry rustle of seeds through the fingers. Time could pass more swiftly that way. Sometimes the Commander’s Wife has a chair brought out, and just sits in it, in her garden. From a distance it looks like peace.

She isn’t here now, and I start to wonder where she is: I don’t like to come upon the Commander’s Wife unexpectedly. Perhaps she’s sewing, in the sitting room, with her left foot on the footstool, because of her arthritis. Or knitting scarves, for the Angels at the front lines. I can hardly believe the Angels have a need for such scarves; anyway, the ones made by the Commander’s Wife are too elaborate. She doesn’t bother with the cross-and-star pattern used by many of the other Wives, it’s not a challenge. Fir trees march across the ends of her scarves, or eagles, or stiff humanoid figures, boy and girl, boy and girl. They aren’t scarves for grown men but for children.

Sometimes I think these scarves aren’t sent to the Angels at all, but unraveled and turned back into balls of yarn, to be knitted again in their turn. Maybe it’s just something to keep the Wives busy, to give them a sense of purpose. But I envy the Commander’s Wife her knitting. It’s good to have small goals that can be easily attained.

What does she envy me?

She doesn’t speak to me, unless she can’t avoid it. I am a reproach to her; and a necessity.

We stood face to face for the first time five weeks ago, when I arrived at this posting. The Guardian from the previous posting brought me to the front door. On first days we are permitted front doors, but after that we’re supposed to use the back. Things haven’t settled down, it’s too soon, everyone is unsure about our exact status. After a while it will be either all front doors or all back.

Aunt Lydia said she was lobbying for the front. Yours is a position of honor, she said.

The Guardian rang the doorbell for me, but before there was time for someone to hear and walk quickly to answer, the door opened inward. She must have been waiting behind it. I was expecting a Martha, but it was her instead, in her long powder-blue robe, unmistakable.

So, you’re the new one, she said. She didn’t step aside to let me in, she just stood there in the doorway, blocking the entrance. She wanted me to feel that I could not come into the house unless she said so. There is push and shove, these days, over such toeholds.

Yes, I said.

Leave it on the porch. She said this to the Guardian, who was carrying my bag. The bag was red vinyl and not large. There was another bag, with the winter cloak and heavier dresses, but that would be coming later.

The Guardian set down the bag and saluted her. Then I could hear his footsteps behind me, going back down the walk, and the click of the front gate, and I felt as if a protective arm were being withdrawn. The threshold of a new house is a lonely place.

She waited until the car started up and pulled away. I wasn’t looking at her face, but at the part of her I could see with my head lowered: her blue waist, thickened, her left hand on the ivory head of her cane, the large diamonds on the ring finger, which must once have been fine and was still finely kept, the fingernail at the end of the knuckly finger filed to a gentle curving point. It was like an ironic smile, on that finger; like something mocking her.

You might as well come in, she said. She turned her back on me and limped down the hall. Shut the door behind you.

I lifted my red bag inside, as she’d no doubt intended, then closed the door. I didn’t say anything to her. Aunt Lydia said it was best not to speak unless they asked you a direct question. Try to think of it from their point of view, she said, her hands clasped and wrung together, her nervous pleading smile. It isn’t easy for them.

In here, said the Commander’s Wife. When I went into the sitting room she was already in her chair, her left foot on the footstool, with its petit point cushion, roses in a basket. Her knitting was on the floor beside the chair, the needles stuck through it.

I stood in front of her, hands folded. So, she said. She had a cigarette, and she put it between her lips and gripped it there while she lit it. Her lips were thin, held that way, with the small vertical lines around them you used to see in advertisements for lip cosmetics. The lighter was ivory-colored. The cigarettes must have come from the black market, I thought, and this gave me hope. Even now that there is no real money anymore, there’s still a black market. There’s always a black market, there’s always something that can be exchanged. She then was a woman who might bend the rules. But what did I have, to trade?

I looked at the cigarette with longing. For me, like liquor and coffee, they are forbidden.

So old what’s-his-face didn’t work out, she said.

No, ma’am, I said.

She gave what might have been a laugh, then coughed. Tough luck on him, she said. This is your second, isn’t it?

Third, ma’am, I said.

Not so good for you either, she said. There was another coughing laugh. You can sit down. I don’t make a practice of it, but just this time.

I did sit, on the edge of one of the stiff-backed chairs. I didn’t want to stare around the room, I didn’t want to appear inattentive to her; so the marble mantelpiece to my right and the mirror over it and the bunches of flowers were just shadows, then, at the edges of my eyes. Later I would have more than enough time to take them in.

Now her face was on a level with mine. I thought I recognized her; or at least there was something familiar about her. A little of her hair was showing, from under her veil. It was still blond. I thought then that maybe she bleached it, that hair dye was something else she could get through the black market, but I know now that it really is blond. Her eyebrows were plucked into thin arched lines, which gave her a permanent look of surprise, or outrage, or inquisitiveness, such as you might see on a startled child, but below them her eyelids were tired-looking. Not so her eyes, which were the flat hostile blue of a midsummer sky in bright sunlight, a blue that shuts you out. Her nose must once have been what was called cute but now was too small for her face. Her face was not fat but it was large. Two lines led downward from the corners of her mouth; between them was her chin, clenched like a fist.

I want to see as little of you as possible, she said. I expect you feel the same way about me.

I didn’t answer, as a yes would have been insulting, a no contradictory.

I know you aren’t stupid, she went on. She inhaled, blew out the smoke. I’ve read your file. As far as I’m concerned, this is like a business transaction. But if I get trouble, I’ll give trouble back. You understand?

Yes, ma’am, I said.

Don’t call me ma’am, she said irritably. You’re not a Martha.

I didn’t ask what I was supposed to call her, because I could see that she hoped I would never have the occasion to call her anything at all. I was disappointed. I wanted, then, to turn her into an older sister, a motherly figure, someone who would understand and protect me. The Wife in my posting before this had spent most of her time in her bedroom; the Marthas said she drank. I wanted this one to be different. I wanted to think I would have liked her, in another time and place, another life. But I could see already that I wouldn’t have liked her, nor she me.

She put her cigarette out, half smoked, in a little scrolled ashtray on the lamp table beside her. She did this decisively, one jab and one grind, not the series of genteel taps favored by many of the Wives.

As for my husband, she said, he’s just that. My husband. I want that to be perfectly clear. Till death do us part. It’s final.

Yes, ma’am, I said again, forgetting. They used to have dolls, for little girls, that would talk if you pulled a string at the back; I thought I was sounding like that, voice of a monotone, voice of a doll. She probably longed to slap my face. They can hit us, there’s Scriptural precedent. But not with any implement. Only with their hands.

It’s one of the things we fought for, said the Commander’s Wife, and suddenly she wasn’t looking at me, she was looking down at her knuckled, diamond-studded hands, and I knew where I’d seen her before.

The first time was on television, when I was eight or nine. It was when my mother was sleeping in, on Sunday mornings, and I would get up early and go to the television set in my mother’s study and flip through the channels, looking for cartoons. Sometimes when I couldn’t find any I would watch the Growing Souls Gospel Hour, where they would tell Bible stories for children and sing hymns. One of the women was called Serena Joy. She was the lead soprano. She was ash blond, petite, with a snub nose and huge blue eyes which she’d turn upwards during hymns. She could smile and cry at the same time, one tear or two sliding gracefully down her cheek, as if on cue, as her voice lifted through its highest notes, tremulous, effortless. It was after that she went on to other things.

The woman sitting in front of me was Serena Joy. Or had been, once. So it was worse than I thought.


I walk along the gravel path that divides the back lawn, neatly, like a hair parting. It has rained during the night; the grass to either side is damp, the air humid. Here and there are worms, evidence of the fertility of the soil, caught by the sun, half dead; flexible and pink, like lips.

I open the white picket gate and continue, past the front lawn and towards the front gate. In the driveway, one of the Guardians assigned to our household is washing the car. That must mean the Commander is in the house, in his own quarters, past the dining room and beyond, where he seems to stay most of the time.

The car is a very expensive one, a Whirlwind; better than the Chariot, much better than the chunky, practical Behemoth. It’s black, of course, the color of prestige or a hearse, and long and sleek. The driver is going over it with a chamois, lovingly. This at least hasn’t changed, the way men caress good cars.

He’s wearing the uniform of the Guardians, but his cap is tilted at a jaunty angle and his sleeves are rolled to the elbow, showing his forearms, tanned but with a stipple of dark hairs. He has a cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth, which shows that he too has something he can trade on the black market.

I know this man’s name: Nick. I know this because I’ve heard Rita and Cora talking about him, and once I heard the Commander speaking to him: Nick, I won’t be needing the car.

He lives here, in the household, over the garage. Low status: he hasn’t been issued a woman, not even one. He doesn’t rate: some defect, lack of connections. But he acts as if he doesn’t know this, or care. He’s too casual, he’s not servile enough. It may be stupidity, but I don’t think so. Smells fishy, they used to say; or, I smell a rat. Misfit as odor. Despite myself, I think of how he might smell. Not fish or decaying rat; tanned skin, moist in the sun, filmed with smoke. I sigh, inhaling.

He looks at me, and sees me looking. He has a French face, lean, whimsical, all planes and angles, with creases around the mouth where he smiles. He takes a final puff of the cigarette, lets it drop to the driveway, and steps on it. He begins to whistle. Then he winks.

I drop my head and turn so that the white wings hide my face, and keep walking. He’s just taken a risk, but for what? What if I were to report him?

Perhaps he was merely being friendly. Perhaps he saw the look on my face and mistook it for something else.

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Отзывы критиков

  • It's no surprise that with the Hulu adaptation of "The Handmaid's Tale" making Atwood's feminist dystopia a hot topic once again, Watson assigned it as one of her "Our Shared Shelf" book club picks.

    Scribd Editors
  • This feminist dystopia was turned into one of the biggest TV series of 2017 (it won eight Primetime Emmys and two Golden Globes). Margaret Atwood's science fiction classic also taps into current political fears about women's rights and the legal status of abortion.

    Scribd Editors

Отзывы читателей

  • (5/5)
    I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but this is the first Margaret Atwood book that I've read and it's unlike any other book I've ever read. The book was written in 1985, but I found it to be extremely timely considering many of the things going on around the world, especially in places like Afghanistan. The leadership in the novel clearly resembles the Taliban. In the book, the United States has been taken over by religious zealots hungry for power. In this new regime, Gilead, women are powerless. Declining birth rates, due mainly to AIDS, result in young women being forced to become sexual slaves for high-ranking officials in the hopes of producing offspring. Atwood reveals the story of the handmaid bit by bit. Offred is telling her story first-person but after the fact. She goes back and forth in time revealing parts of her life in the "other time" and how she came to be a handmaid. "Historical Notes on the Handmaid's Tale" at the end of the book allows the reader to see that the cruel theocracy ends, but the reader is left to ponder the fate of Offred.
  • (5/5)
    Some 'sci-fi' books have a habit of dating terribly as years go by. (Flying cars anyone?!?) Attwood though keeps things just close enough to 'normal' to ensure that this glimpse at the possible future remains equal parts as intriguing and chilling as ever.
  • (5/5)
    One of my favorite books. About a Utopian/distopian world in which women are having problems conceiving. No one is sure of the reason why. Young women are taken into custody by wealthy men, who have sex with them once a month in hopes of pregnancy. The whole world changes along with this as well. Written from one women's prospective, tells the story of how she copes with being a 'sex slave.' Amazing!
  • (4/5)
    Great story, and scary. I saw the opera. The staging was just terrific, really opened the story for me, but the music hurt my ears.
  • (4/5)
    An excellent futuristic novel (no sci-fi). Atwood goes back to the same type of writing in Oryx and Crake.
  • (4/5)
    well-written but nightmare-causing novel about a future world where the rich women are sterile and poor women are forced to be their surrogates.
  • (5/5)
    This is a book I consider amongst my all time favourites. Though I never felt anything similar to anything else she wrote up to this point and haven't read any novels she has since written. All of her previous novels just left me feeling bad about being a woman. Didn't help that she wrote these while I was a very young and impressionable woman. But this one left me feeling hopeful because clearly identified society's preference to opress women more severely than men. Finally felt she'd stopped blaming the victim. But I've never been able to re-establish enough trust in her to read anything she's written since Handmaid's Tale. Guess I wanted to leave on a good note.Though I haven't had an interest in poetry in 30 years I'm finding I enjoy hers a lot. And I'm much harder to please when it comes to poetry.
  • (5/5)
    I THINK this was the first Margaret Atwood novel i ever read and needless to say i thought it was brilliant. I absolutely love Margaret Atwood (her writing at least) i suck up every piece of her writing i can get my hands and i just find her so very wise.
  • (5/5)
    One of the best novels I've ever read!!!! I first read this book in highschool, and remember how frightend I felt by the subject matter. It is one of the books that I reread often!
  • (5/5)
    Simply one of the most frightening (because, frankly it's very possible if we keep heading the way we are politically) tales of a dystopian future that I've ever read. This is in my list of personal favorites for my lifetime, and one I encourage everyone to read.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent book, a good illustration of what can happen when the rights of the individual are stomped on. The use of clothing colour as a theme was interesting: handmaids=red (whore), martha's (green), wives (blue).I would recommend that you read other Atwood books before this one, this is her best work.
  • (5/5)
    This book got me into books about 'dystopias'. I've read a lot by Margaret Atwood but this continues to be my favorite. A fantastic story.
  • (5/5)
    Margaret Atwood's futuristic novel - The Handmaid's Tale - is timeless and relevant. Set in the fictional Republic of Gilead and spanning the Eastern seaboard of the United States after the collapse of the American government, the novel is narrated by Offred...a young Handmaid whose sole purpose in life now is to be the vessel for producing a baby for the upper classes. Atwood creates a terrifying hierarchy with men being "on top" and women being relegated to a variety of freedom-less classes such as Wives (top ranked married women who are unable to conceive), Daughters (the adopted offspring of wives), Marthas (infertile, single, older women whose skills at domesticity keep them from being shipped off to the Colonies), Econowives (low-ranked married women who must "do it all"), Handmaids (fertile women whose sole function is to provide babies for the upper echelon), Aunts (the only women who have any autonomy and are used to train and monitor the Handmaids), and Jezebels (the prostitutes who are hidden away in hotels and used for men's pleasure). Atwood uses irony effectively with Biblical references and play on words to craft a compelling story.The novel questions how much freedom we are willing to give up in the guise of safety. Viewed in respect to our current world and political environment of red alerts, government lies to enact war, terrorism, airline security, phone tapping and the whittling away of individual freedoms...The Handmaid's tale is a thought-provoking expose on what could happen when we willingly give up our freedoms to supposedly ensure our safety. Are we on a slippery slope? Atwood also questions our sources of information (ie: the news media).Atwood is a genius at creating character. Offred's voice is pitch perfect, taking the reader step by step through her horrible story. Even Serena Joy, the Commander Fred's wretched wife, elicits sympathy from the reader. Atwood's skill with language has never been more spot on then in this novel where she twists words and phrases, showing the reader that all is not as it seems.I was hooked by the story from page one and read it straight through in two days.The Handmaid's Tale is on the ALA's list of 100 most banned books. It was short listed for the Booker Prize in 1986, won the Governor General's Award in Canada in 1985, and made the Orange Prize list of 50 Essential Reads. Brilliant, chilling, suspenseful, and masterly written - this novel is a modern classic.Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    A really interesting story, though I had to read three chapters to really get into the book.
  • (5/5)
    I love this book, absolutely amazing. Much better the second time around as it can be rather confusing at first read. A must for every woman.
  • (3/5)
    An excellent, yet disturbing look into a totalitarian society set not too far in the distant future. The importance of a woman's life is based on if she can bear children or not. If she is proven fertile she becomes the handmaid to a wife and a husband and must become pregnant to escape deportation to the Colonies. A chilling look into if power went too far, fear ruled, and free will were taken away...who would suffer the consequences?
  • (4/5)
    A chilling tale about a future where pollution has caused mass infertility, and a repressive theocracy is in power in America, the latter based (I think) on Atwood's observations on Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Women in particular, are suppressed under the new system.I seem to recall everyone in our book group enjoyed this one, and the provocative discussion that came from it.
  • (5/5)
    This is a work of speculative fiction that takes place in a dystopia of the near future, a totalitarian government in the former United States.The particulars of the story serve to describe this society and I will not go into the details here as they are available in the editorial reviews, except to say that because the society's repressive laws are misogynous and are couched in terms of Biblical laws and mythologies it may seem to be an indictment of evangelical Christianity and it is actually so much further reaching than that. Subtle warnings about a clever and devious conservative white male think tank that in all probability is utterly devoid of any actual spiritual motivation and whose primary focus is the self-preservation of their elite privileged lifestyle in the face of its own self-destructive biological consequences are to be found here. Subtle warnings abound in this story and it behooves one to look at oneself as well. Short-sightedness and perfunctory utility are the destroyers of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a well-realized society that Atwood has created, one that is utterly repressive in every way. The book is well-paced, well written and masterfully conceived. So complex and thought provoking is the book that it is one of the few modern day works of fiction to be the subject of a Cliffs Notes study guide.I found it particularly interesting that this book was published in 1985 and yet it warns of a paperless society, plastic and numerical money, and universal identification cards among other aspects of modern times that do, in fact, seem to be a coming reality. Ironically, the narrator of the story, a completely objectified, sexual commodity, enslaved and utterly repressed by the government, prior to the coups d'etat, worked as a transcriber in a university library and her task was to transcribe books onto compact disks in order to maximize space. As long as she still had the illusion of liberty and was being paid, she never questioned the danger of her job to civil liberty as a whole. Atwood's allusion to the reality in modern times of an insidious Fahrenheit 451 attitude, ostensibly for practicality's sake, is just one of the chilling warnings presented in this book.In one passage of remarkably prescient writing Atwood describes the actual day of the takeover thus: "It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time. Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control." I find it exceedingly interesting and frightening that our true-life catastrophe of 9-11 has already caused us to lower our guard and allow serious incursions into our civil liberties. We, like the Handmaid Offred in her earlier life, seem to be unconcerned so long as we are still getting paid and are still allowed our own personal familiar comforts. We are so complacent and so trusting. This book was a wake-up call seventeen years ago when it was published and today it is a warning siren against a gathering storm that we dare not plug our ears to ignor. Read it and think.
  • (5/5)
    Amazing that this book should be my 100th book review of the year. This is probably my all-time favorite book, and after re-reading for the third time, I am reminded why. It is amazing what you get out of a book that is different each time you read it. I think that is a measure of how good a book really is, sometimes.The Handmaid's Tale is similar to many of the other books that I have read recently, the dystopias that I love so much. This is by far the best. The world that Atwood creates is much more similar to our own than that of 1984 or Brave New World. Although 1984 takes place not long after the upheaval that creates its world, The Handmaid's Tale takes place in a world that is so similar to our own. The main character remembers so much from "the time before" that is recognizable.The way that women are controlled in this new society is frightening, and it's always the worst when we learn that many women support what the new society is doing. They feel safer with the new order, although how anyone can ever feel safe when everyone is under heavy government surveillance, I will never understand. Everyone must constantly watch their step, make sure to not attract undue notice. The narrator of the story does her best to go along with it, stay out of trouble, but as a handmaid, she has one of the most despised, but also powerful, positions in society. She also remembers too much about "the time before" and that makes it difficult for her. She imagines what it will be like when future handmaid's have never known any other kind of life - they will cease to question it.There are so many fantastic levels to this book, but after reading it this time around, what stood out to me the most was the descriptions of "the time before". When I first read this book, I think that I imagined it to be more similar to our own time than it actually is. As the narrator remembers her life before the current regime, she remembers details that seem like our world, but are slightly off. She describes a time when a woman tried to run off with her daughter, right in the middle of a grocery store - she thought it was a random occurance, but apparantly it was not uncommon. It was becoming clear that women were having more and more trouble having children, and those who were able to get pregnant were the truly lucky ones. Another factor is that of the Compubank. It is similar to our ATM card system, but paper money has been abolished. The narrator believes this is what gave the new government so much power. They were able to freeze the accounts of all women, not allow them access to any sort of money. It's a chilling thought. These are just a few details in a book that is rich with them.This is a wonderful book, even if you are not a fan of alternate futures, or dystopias. If you've never read it, read it. If you have, you will always get something new from reading it again.
  • (5/5)
    This is one of the scariest and most intriguing novels I have ever read. This book is definitely in my top 5 list. If you enjoy books of a dystopian nature, i.e. Brave New World, We, 1984, then you will undoubtedly appreciate this novel as well.
  • (5/5)
    My favorite of her books and I like all of her books; read when I first started my practice in the early 1980's; is actually a science fiction novel
  • (5/5)
    I absolutely loved this. I had been told before that I probably would love it, and I'm unsure why I didn't read it before. I really wish I knew what became of Offred - the ending is abrupt, leaving you to draw your own conclusions - but I kind of like the aspect of getting to believe what I want about it as well. Overall, this was highly intriguing and possibly a favorite of mine for the year.
  • (5/5)
    The Handmaid's Tale is an odd book in some ways. It's clearly science fiction - a parallel reality in which breeding rates drop and a theocracy has taken over the USA with a number of extreme changes to try and continue the species.But it ignores 90% of the trends and styles of SF, being a diary and mainly set in 2 rooms of the same house, plus the walk to and from the shop. Everything is revealed by the direct observation of the handmaid, or by flashback, and in that sense it's much more a work of literature.Both the story and the society are compelling. Like great SciFi, it's a reflection of now in a different format. That is true here, although with the current aggressively Christian doctrine that seems to be driving the White House there is something that comes across more as satire: that sense of taking it just a step further than reality to turn it into the grotesque although in this case rather humourless version.And underneath that, there's a story of hope, love, adapting to change. There are some clearly indicated choices from a woman's perspective: if you're free to do what you want, does that mean women are treated badly? If you're set free from those expectations, is that better? (Sadly being set free from those expectations comes at the cost of a theocracy, secret police and regularly hangings so the answer on balance is certainly no if the rest is required.)An exquisitely realised book, a strong story, and something to provoke thought for a long time to come.
  • (5/5)
    This story is nothing short of chilling, especially in light of current trends in our own society and around the world in places where religion is used to make laws. The story is basically a conception of what would happen to the US, especially the women, if the religious nuts had their way and were successful in their plot to achieve dominion over the world. Religious zealots take over the US government by force and begin to basically create the Christian equivalence of shariah law. Women become basically chattel, only good for reproducing and serving men. The pace is quick and the characters are well fleshed out. This book was written many years ago, but it could have been published yesterday in terms of its timeliness. Scary and compelling, this is an excellent read.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent plot and premise to this book. Sometimes I struggle with Atwood's writing style, but she is a powerhouse nonetheless.
  • (5/5)
    Dystopian future at its bleakest. The TV series is quite faithful to the book.
  • (5/5)
    "Better never means better for everyone...It always means worse for some."By sally tarbox on 17 September 2017Format: Kindle EditionLast read 18 yrs ago- I'd forgotten how utterly brilliant and engrossing it was!Narrated by 33 year old Offred, this is a futuristic dystopia where pollution and disease have made sterility and birth defects commonplace. Wealthy and infertile couples can take in a 'handmaid' to give them a chance of their own child. But there is nothing wanton about this - the wife is present during the 'Ceremony', and the handmaid dresses like a nun.Offred is one such handmaid. She recounts her life with the Commander and his hostile wife; her trips into town (always paired up with another maid); the police state, where capital punishment is commonplace; the rumours of an underground resistance movement. And she looks back to her youth, when things were still normal, when she had a partner, a child, feminist friends, a mother...The reader will see hints of different political systems: it put me much in mind of African slavery, with people fleeing via safe houses to the North and freedom. But written in 1985, as islamic extremism was increasing, this also reflects that misogynistic world. Women covered up (Offred wears a headdress whose 'wings' give her a limited view), their freedom curtailed (allegedly for their own protection), public executions and enforced 'religion' as another tool of oppression.Unputdownable writing.
  • (5/5)
    Excellent read!
  • (5/5)
    Wow, this harrowing post-Apocalyptic tale blew me away. As Atwood's most famous, it is also her most imaginative... but is the fascist world of Gilead simply fantasy, or a warning to us all? The society started out innocently enough, with the government's control over women slow and subtle. Then, they couldn't own credit cards. They couldn't have jobs. Little by little, their rights were chipped away by a controlling, theocratic authority. Then "unsuitable" marriages were broken up, women forced into slavery, forced to serve as cooks, teachers, or breeders. People not useful to the society were sent away to work camps. The fertile ones, like the novel's Offred, had their biological children taken away as they were forced to produce offspring for high-ranking men. These "handmaidens" were not to have any identity of their own, weren't allowed to read or write, and were thrown away when they could not produce babies (with it never being considered if the man was infertile.)Offred is to produce a baby for Fred and Serena, each half spouse representing a different kind of their society's hypocrisy. Fred encourages Offred to do taboo things and takes her to a brothel out of a dissatisfaction for the world in which he must put up a strong front. Serena was once a TV evangelist who promoted that a woman's place was by her husband's side - now in her "domestic place", she must endure the daily humiliation of witnessing her husband have sex (and being a symbolic part of the mating ritual) with the handmaidens who are to produce the children she cannot give him.Gilead is full of misery and repression, as well as loopholes and secrets, but Offred feels she must have no choice in accepting it. Only when meeting her household's alluring chauffeur does she realize there might be a way out. She knows that rebellious ones before her were forced into prostitution or the camps. Can she make it to freedom? Is there any hope for bringing down such oppression? Atwood leaves it open-ended, perhaps as a way to let the reader know that fate is in our hands. Will we stand idly by as we are slowly oppressed until it is too late? Though some critics may think of many aspects of Gilead as over-the-top, many of the Republic's events and social stigmas have already passed in our country:-the encouragement of women to breed as a patriotic duty-the refusal to believe that men could be infertile so long as they were not impotent-The Eugenics movement, where "suitable" people were encouraged to breed, but the "unsuitable" were coerced into giving up their children.-Women were once considered her husband's propertyIn light of the treatment of women in the past, it is not so fantastical to believe that Gilead could be a reality. The novel is a "what if?" supposition on what our society would look like if religious fundamentalists had their way. Atwood's conclusion is every woman's worst nightmare: a humiliation for every woman, from liberal to conservative. It is a warning for the whole gender, though men apparently are miserable, too. The only happiness anyone has is through breaking the rules. You learn a lot about a society through observing how they treat women. Atwood must be of the same opinion, because highlighting the female oppression of this society speaks volumes about why it is wrong on many levels.
  • (5/5)
    WHOA... incredible story, with lots going on!Trivia: I attended a lecture by the author, Margaret Atwood, a couple of years after this book came out. The lecture took place in the US. Someone from the audience asked, "Since you are Canadian, why did you place this story in America instead of Canada?" Atwood answered, "Because America is where it would happen." The audience laughed appreciatively, clearly agreeing. As an American who lived for 20 years in Canada (I consider myself a "Canerican"), I agree too.This is a book that may become a classic along the lines of Orwell's 1984. (Please remind future generations that I said that!)