Many of the books I read are populated by strong female characters. Biography, science fiction, literature, mystery – all feature intelligent, feisty and powerful women. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is no exception.
Set at an unknown point in time, The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of a woman named Offred. The story alternates between Offred’s current day-to-day existence and her memories of a past life. One with a daughter, a loving husband, and a fulfilling career. Now, Offred is valued more for her functioning ovaries than her intelligence.
Offred’s life shifted drastically because the United States no longer exists. In response to declining birth rates and civil unrest, a group of fundamental Christian militants overthrow the government. The Republic of Gilead, as this country is known, institutes a rigid social hierarchy and enacts laws inspired by the Old Testament. Young and healthy women, like Offred, are classified as handmaids and assigned to the homes of childless high-ranking government officials and their wives. Their job is to bear these men’s children.
Although the Republic of Gilead has stripped Offred of her rights, she refuses to give up. She finds ways to assert her independence by swinging her hips while walking or through unsanctioned interactions with men. Often, Offred risks her limited freedom by looking for people who may be able to help her escape from Gilead. Offred reminds us that rebellion doesn’t have to be loud. It can be quiet and slow-burning and still succeed in the end.
The Handmaid’s Tale is currently airing as a series on Hulu.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor Books, 1986.