Friday, December 03, 2004

The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood, author of twenty-five books including fictions, poetry and essays, has written a classic that deserves to be placed next to Orwell’s 1984. Critics say it’s no less than Huxley’s Brave New World and Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, but since I’ve not read either of them, I can’t comment. (I tried reading the second since it was prescribed for the Novel Paper in MA-I, but I couldn’t get past the first 10 pages)

Coming to us in first-person, The Handmaid's Tale is an account of a handmaid’s life in the Republic of Gilead in the United States of America. Offred is handmaid to a Commander and her value is marked on the functioning of her ovaries. Handmaid’s according to this tale, were women who served the function of bearing children for the elite, those who’s wives could not conceive children themselves due to various reasons. They were, women who had not yet been married, or were second wives or mistresses, in the era before the Republic, now with no rights and no hope of any life. They go to a school, where they are trained to prepare for their lives as Handmaids, knowing that if they fail, they could face execution and hung at the “Wall” as a lesson to others, or shipped off to the Colonies, declared “Unwoman” where they would spend the remaining years of their lives, cleaning up junk, as the radiations from the nuclear waste slowly ate away at their system.

Offred lay down on their back once a month and prayed that the Commander would make her pregnant this time, so that she could give them what they wanted - a baby in this time of non-fertility and reproductive systems gone askew, when babies were dying in wombs before full-term or being born with numerous defects as a ramification of years of chemical pollution of the elements, nuclear warfare, and strain of mutable diseases that ran through the human system, a by-product of the “loose” sexual morals of the yester-years. Interpolated with flashbacks of her life before the Republic, when she lived with Luke and had a job of her own, an independent bank account and a lovely daughter whom she cherishes till this day, the novel is a horrifying and scathing account of a dystopia that could be.

Atwood, claims that “this is a book about what happens when certain casually held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions. For example, I explore a number of conservative opinions held by many – such as a woman’s place is in the home. And also certain feminist pronouncements – women prefer the company of other women, for example. Take these beliefs to their logical ends and see what happens.”

Powerful and gripping, I could feel a chilling sense of fear and menace grip me as I turned the pages to reach the denouement of the novel. This wasn’t magic realism, this wasn’t science-fiction; it was a warning to the human race, a warning against our excesses, a warning against the increasing use of nuclear warfare and chemical products, a warning against totalitarianism.

It’s a MUST READ!! (Thanks Madusa!)


Paddy said...

I Agree Completely..May I suggest Cats Eye as well to this repertoire.

You wont believe what happened just now.I was watching a movie (The Legend of Suryothai) and suddenly watched the handmaid do some funny things and suddenly it struck my mind about the "Handsmaid Tale" and lo! you already wrote something on it.I cant believe this..
Is this a coincidence or what?

Geetanjali said...

Co-incidences, co-incidences! Am glad you've read the book - Akshay too mentioned he has - it's cool that guys don't shirk away from what is popularly considered a "feminist" novel! Kuddos to you guys...thanks for that reco Paddy - shall keep it in mind!

livinghigh said...

sounds an engrossing read! will make a mental note to pick it up!

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