AUTHOR- MARGARET ATWOOD
PUBLISHED IN- 1985
I have not been able to form an opinion on the book yet. Did I like it? I don’t know. Did I not like it? I can’t say. It was just a wild ride from the start till the end.
It is a science fiction where the reality has been drastically altered. Women have become infertile and have lost all of their rights. The two things are not related to each other though. Men have appointed the few fertile women as Handmaids who must breed to help save the dying species. The narrator in the book was a handmaid. She remembers how everything was fine until one day when it wasn’t. She had a husband and a daughter prior to becoming a handmaid. She was sent to a kind of reform class where handmaid’s were being trained of their duties and also were made to forget their past lives. Along with Handmaids, there were other sects in the society such as Marthas (took care of cooking and stuff like that), Aunts (taught the Handmaids about the new rules of the world), Wives (legally wed to men of higher status), Unwomen (they were of no use and were simply left to feed for themselves) and a few others. The protagonist was a handmaid who was appointed to a Commander and his Wife since they were unable to give birth to a child. The wives were obviously never in favor of the handmaids. The Commander and the handmaid were banned to have any sort of interaction save for one night of copulation every month. The entire story is just so sad. we never arrive at any form of conclusion in the end.
I found the scene of mating to be pretty intriguing. All the members of the household would to be prepared to it every month. They would listen to words from the Bible and remember that this is the only way out for them. The wife would lie down and the handmaid is supposed to lie on the wife’s belly while the husband tries to mate. Why I thought of it as interesting was because in this way they would just label the handmaid as a vessel. She was not alive or in flesh for them. She was simply a vessel for the wife who couldn’t procreate. It gave the wife a sense of feeling that it was her who was procreating life and not an outsider woman. It was also similar when the handmaids gave birth. The wife is supposed to sit in a ladder like object, the handmaid sits just below her as she is birthing. That too makes the handmaid a vessel and nothing more. I guess the sheer thought of a human being treated as an animal intrigued me. They are not allowed to experience any pleasure or excitement. It was all so wrong. It wasn’t just wrong for women. Men suffered in their own ways too. The commander would often call the handmaid secretly at nights to engage in a game of scrabble or to give her a women’s magazine to read. All of it was banned. The commander didn’t really search for love. He was missing companionship.
There was another scene which I found to be heartbreaking. The handmaid was separated from her little daughter and would often think about her. The wife arranged a photograph of her daughter to let her see how she was. In the photo she looks at her daughter who is older now and also notices that her daughter doesn’t remember her. She experiences a heart break then. How could she had been so easily forgotten? If she ever got out of her present situation, where would she go to? Who did she have her now after all?
I got chills from reading this book.
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.”
“Falling in love, we said; I fell for him. We were falling women. We believed in it, this downward motion: so lovely, like flying, and yet at the same time so dire, so extreme, so unlikely. God is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven, was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total. We were waiting, always, for the incarnation. That word, made flesh.
And sometimes it happened, for a time. That kind of love comes and goes and is hard to remember afterwards, like pain. You would look at the man one day and you would think, I loved you, and the tense would be past, and you would be filled with a sense of wonder, because it was such an amazing and precarious and dumb thing to have done; and you would know too why your friends had been evasive about it, at the time.
There is a good deal of comfort, now, in remembering this.”
I just cannot emphasize on how much I admire this paragraph. It is interesting because it is the truth especially when we end up wondering how we could have ever fallen for someone in the first place. And usually we would say that with a tone of disgust.
“But people will do anything rather than admit that their lives have no meaning. No use, that is. No plot.”