The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1986, 1998)

Another book on my “to read” list for many years, The Handmaid’s Tale is unique in the dystopia genre.  While it is similar to 1984, Brave New World, and even the newer Delerium (a YA novel), it offers a slightly different twist focusing primarily on women’s rights and the role of women in society.  I’m always amazed when authors can accurately project where society is headed, and it seems that Atwood, in 1986, was onto many ideas: the Tea Party, evangelical Christianity, theocracy.  In this story, women are categorized into a few roles—the handmaids that are used to procreate with the Commanders, the Marthas that are used to keep younger women in line, the wives who are married to Commanders but have no real relationship with them, and some sort of slave class for women and others who are not useful to the society.  And how was this society brought about? By a religious takeover.  God wills it this way and viola! this is how we should run things.  A woman’s place is in the home; her role is to produce offspring; she is not to think, but to obey; society shall not inquire or read or discuss.  Those who don’t abide shall be killed and such killing shall be made public, and male Commanders shall maintain power and decision-making.  So it’s basically a theocracy, not far from Iran or Iraq under the Taliban or Sharia law.  And though a stretch, I wonder how far off it is from beliefs of some of the Tea Partiers or conservative Christians where “family values” probably means women who obey, procreate, pray, and don’t read or think too much.  It’s been 25 years since Atwood wrote this book.  I wonder if we’re closer to her fictional Gilead society than she thought we’d be. I can think of a few politicians who would love to turn our country into Gilead. (fiction)

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