The 1980s was a decade of technologies, music and fashions sparking a renewed vigour towards consumerism. New political thinking was creating new social structures, reflected in the literature of the decade. The feminist literature of Margaret Atwood marked the political mood. This week we take a look at her novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”.
The Handmaid’s Tale uses her sensual intelligence and rigorous narrative gifts to portray in beautifully descriptive prose the life of an enslaved woman in a puritan dystopia ruled by men. Its a novel full of incendiary discussion and extraordinary scenes.
Handmaids, Guardians, Angels, Eco wives, Marthas and Commanders all have defined roles in the Republic of Gilead, a bible oriented North American State established in reaction to the late twentieth century sexual permissiveness. Offred is a handmaiden, a woman capable of bearing children in a nation of plummeting birth rates. Her own husband and daughters are forbidden subjects of the past as she has to try and conceive a child with her Commander. But, even in an age of absolute submissiveness there are underground movements of protest.
Offred’s account of her repressed life is a detailed description from some surviving cassette tapes found in a house two centuries later. Its a tale of her mental and physical degradation, and her fears of what has happened to her family and what will happen to her if she rebels. Some critics claim that the anger of its feminism dates it, but it is still a powerful evocation of the necessity of emotions.
If you enjoy The Handmaid’s Tales, you might also like “Oryx and Crake” where she imagines a world in which humans are almost extinct and replaced by humanoid Crakes.