A Review of The Handmaind's Tale

Following the media hype surrounding the televised adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, I was intrigued to see how the book would compare.

As a part of the AQA A Level English Literature syllabus, I expected the book to be an old fashioned classic with a plot surrounding love and marriage. The novel, however, explores the controversial topics of female subjugation and inherent misogyny in western patriarchal societies and the attempts of some constrained women to gain independence and individuality. The protagonist, Offred, is a ‘Handmaid’ in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian theocracy that has overthrown the modern United States of America after nuclear warfare. In order to survive, she must bear the child of her ‘Commander’, one of the founding members of Gilead, or else she faces execution or perhaps exile to the dangerous radioactive Colonies with all the other infertile women.

The book explores the controversial topics of female subjugation and inherent misogyny

The reproductive restrictions and repression of women is eerily prescient of current societies, specifically the USA, with Gilead appearing to predict the aims of male leaders such as Trump and Pence. This is exemplified through a series of misogynistic comments from Trump, including a suggestion that women should be “punished” for having abortions and stating that no-one should vote for his former rival, Carly Fiorina, because of “her face”. In this way, the cautionary tale rings true in an alarming fashion.

Margaret Atwood, the author, described this similarity as making the novel ‘speculative fiction’, where the setting depicts a way of life that reality seems to heading towards and the foreboding tone of the cautionary tale is enough to leave one reeling whilst reading the novel. From a tale which spins a web of oppression, suspense and defiance comes not only a superlative exercise in science fiction but also a resounding moral story.

The current second series of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ TV Series is due to create another media frenzy, despite the entire plot of the novel having been explored in the first series. It will, therefore, be very interesting to see where the show’s producers take the story, even if fans of the novel acknowledge that a second series should not exist.