Friday, 16 November 2012

Margaret Atwood "The Handmaid's tale"

Atwood-The Handmaid's tale
Did the book flash my feminist spirit? No and no.

The role of women in the imaginary society created by Margaret Atwood is "functional" but not diverse. Either you  are a Commander's wife (and must be present during your husband's  sexual intercourse with his Handmaid), or a Handmaid, and your role is limited to procreation. You may also be declared as Unwoman (women who are not able to have children) and sentenced to colonies where they die very quickly, or you can become Marthas (cooking, cleaning etc), there is also a possibility to become a sterile Prostitute for Commanders in a secret brothel. 

Handmaids are supposed to give birth and leave the child to the Commander's family. Then go to another house to fulfill the same duties. Each Handmaid has 2-3 - years for reproduction, afterwards they are deported to colonies. 

Everything is reduced to the cold functionality,robotic humanity. Frivolity is excluded  in every aspect of life - full dress covering bodies, "butterflies" in the collars, rigid Puritan traditions, no cosmetics, no books.

The handmaid, the main character of the book, is deprived of her name,  her husband, and her daughter.  She does not have clothes except for the hideous red robe symbolizing fertility and white wings covering her face. She does not have even a possibility to commit suicide. 

I read some reviews and many women are horrified by the fate of women in this book.  This  book is considered to be feminist. 

In fact, Margaret Atwood created a society in which men are just as unhappy as women. If you are one of the Commanders and do not have children with your wife, you are entitled to have a couple of Handmaids. The way Commanders have interscourse with their Handmaids, can make some men impotent:)  Men of lower ranking do not have rights to get married! Homosexuals are executed and their dead bodies hung from the city wall. If you flirt with Handmaids you will end up at the city wall. It seems that in a new society  women are supressed and the world belongs to men, but what exactly does this new society offer to men? Most of books and professions are banned. Due to military regime, a lot of men work as guards or patrol, which is as dull as being Marthas. Those citizens (men and women) who are involved in resistance, or simply do not agree with the regime are executed too. So why this book is feminist? I did not get that.


Atwood described a totalitarian regime in which everybody, regardless of sex, has a hard time. If you ask whether the world created by Atwood is convincing. My answer is: "not very much".  I think, it is better not to fantasize on this topic. It is suffuces to look back at our recent history, hardly anyone in his/her fantazies can surpass the realities created by Mao, Stalin or Hitler.

If you want to read more about obedience, totalitarian regime, please read Jonathan Littell "Kindly Ones." This is a book of a different level - one of the rare books that will change a lot in you. It is really deep, shocking and smart.

Back to the maids. The book is not bad. Atwood knows how to write thrillers. A Handmaid was chosen as the main character, which makes you naturally curious to get to know how does "her function" work:).  When you finally satisfy you curiosity you are already captivated by her  fears and you desperetly want to know the end of her story. 

What else can I say? Enjoy life and books while they are not banned, travel while countries keep  their frontiers open.:)

No comments:

Post a comment