The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Chantel’s rating – 2.5/5

Caidyn’s rating – 1/5

I am very nervous about reviewing this book because it’s a very popular book, it’s well known, and it’s been influential. It’s very important to emphasize that this book is a product of its time, a time where women were struggling to break free of the roles we were told to stick to and a time where we were fighting for the right to do what we pleased with our bodies. In a lot of ways, this book is just as important now as it was then. Which makes the TV show adaptation a product of our time. I understand why this book is important and I would’ve loved to read this during high school or even college. That way it can be analyzed and picked apart, as I’m sure it has been. I might have gotten more out of it. That being said, it’s not a book I would read for fun. It’s not a fun book and unfortunately, it’s not even interesting.

I am not going to analyze this book because that’s not what I’m trying to do. I don’t have an academic mind and I’ve always struggled to analyze the meaning of literature even if it’s pretty obvious as this book is.

I read books for entertainment and I was not entertained by this book. I thought about stopping several times, but once I got to 50% I thought I might as well finish it. I wanted to be able to say I’ve read this book, finally, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. It’s kind of sad when the most excited I got for this book was when I found out a very minor character was a lesbian. Queer characters, major or minor, cause my excitement to go through the roof. In fact, the story might have been more interesting through her POV, but that’s beside the point. I feel very uncomfortable criticising a book that was so influential and meant a lot to so many people. This might be my most unpopular opinion, honestly. My lack of interest in this book doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out and read it if you haven’t. I would encourage people to try because I know there is an important message here and as a feminist, I felt it was necessary to read this book for myself.

Unlike Chantel, I’m not nervous and think that the book community can handle it if there’s a negative review out there for this book. I only made it 15% before I just gave up. It was dull and the characters didn’t stand out to me and I wasn’t interested enough to figure it out. There’s endless dialogue on the characters or the plot or whatever else. People have analyzed the hell out of it, so I’m not really going to try. For me, this is a real example of me loving the premise but hating the carry-out. The message it holds — about the terrors of a male-dominated, fundamentalist Christian world — is something that rings true. It came out in the 80s when women were likely pretty scared of Reagan taking away the rights they had won after so many years of fighting. Now, it’s back in style again (not just for the recent TV show) because of Trump and his strong fundamentalist coalition backing him up. So, I love the idea and I think that it’s super important. Just that I wasn’t fond of how it was written.

I’ve read tons of classic dystopians to the point where I know how they go. The main character is the every-man (like we have here). The plot starts with that character sort of feeling like something’s wrong after going along with it for so long (I got to the point where she was feeling that way). And then they sort of start rebelling and going against it. Sometimes there’s a huge infodump conversation at the end with some sort of leader to tell what’s wrong with the world and so on. The character has to decide whether to go along with it or not.

My main thing with this book is that the everyman is just so dull and she was so complacent to go with the system that I was tired of it. It felt as if she was seeking the good old days, yet she could have done something to get there. Since Chantel finished it and I didn’t, did she ever get to that point? Did she ever decide to go against the system?

I mean, yes and no. This is going to be slightly spoilery for the latter half of the book, so be warned. She was rebelling against the society by sleeping with the chauffeur, Nick, behind the Commander’s back. When confronted with the idea that there was a rebellion taking place, after she started sleeping with Nick, she didn’t care about anything but her affair. The end is left ambiguous to her fate, but then there is an epilogue which, I don’t want to get into, but I think the answer isn’t clear-cut if that makes sense. She went against the system in her own way, but nothing to completely overthrow society.

The way she rebelled, quite honestly, makes sense to me. They were controlling her body, her sexuality. So, her only way to rebel was to take away their control and to express her sexuality as she wanted to. It was her private rebellion against the system in wake of the bigger one.

I agree, it was more of a personal rebellion and I think that is more relatable to the audience reading this book at that time than overthrowing the system completely. It was her way of making society more bearable for herself.

I can see that, it being more for the reader since it’s supposed to be quiet. Rebellions, I’ve seen, start quiet and then expand into something bigger. However, I still don’t know if I quite like that idea. It sounds like a boring book, not one that inspires a lot of people. Maybe that’s me coming from it from a masculine perspective. Much of women’s history is full of quiet, personal rebellions against the immediate patriarchy, not against the wider one.

It’s not just you, this book is boring, but I feel that as a feminist it’s required literature. It felt like homework.

Again, I can sort of see that. It’s sort of how I feel about Beloved or anything by Toni Morrison. It’s required for black women or for English enthusiasts. You have to read her. Atwood can definitely be cornered into that. I wish it had been more interesting. But, say more about the queer character. Was she in the present or from the MC’s past?

So, the character Moira is a lesbian. This isn’t revealed until halfway through the book. Moira is a friend from Offred’s past and someone she went through re-education with. Most of her scenes take place in flashbacks, however, she does pop up in the present when the Commander takes Offred to a weird sex club. By the way, there is a lot of weird sex stuff in this book. Basically, it’s a brothel, but Moira seems complacent with the world and has found her place as a prostitute which seems like she might have more freedom, but that’s not exactly true. She might be able to be free with her sexuality, but she’s still catering to men’s desires. The only difference is she doesn’t have to pop out babies.

With my random interests in prostitution, that’s sort of how it goes no matter what. Even male prostitutes aren’t necessarily for women. When I hear talk about male prostitutes, I think of men going to see them. Perhaps that’s something ingrained in me culturally. Women don’t have sexual needs that warrant a prostitute. Anyways, that is interesting. She’s catering to men while keeping her sexuality stable and defying them in, again, a quiet, personal fashion.

Basically the alternative to being a sex slave is being a prostitute which isn’t much better at all. The only differences are she doesn’t have to have babies and can be open about her sexuality because men like that too.

Some would argue that prostitution is the same thing as being a sex slave. Depends on many factors, though. My prototypical prostitute is not that of a sex slave with a pimp, though. Men do like lesbians, though. But, it’s just a shame that this book felt like required reading, honestly. I count myself as a feminist (although I prefer a different name for it) but it’s just annoying that I’ve DNFed it and will likely have a million feminists on me for being a horrible male.

Well, I use the word prostitution but I don’t know if they got paid for sex. They just worked at a sex club and it’s likely they might not have gotten paid for it. But I want to talk about feminism real quick. There are so many different interpretations of the word from feminists and non-feminists and I just want to be clear about my definition of feminism and what I believe. When I say feminism, I believe in equal rights for all genders. Gender inequality affects men too and the repercussions of gender inequality are everywhere. I think we just need to accept that all genders are equal and it’s bullshit that 32 years after this book was written that isn’t the case.

Your definition is spot on and I’m in a women’s study class this semester so we’re focusing on history. I use that definition as well, but the term has been so twisted over the years by men believing something (aka their power) is being taken away from them that it’s seen as a bad thing. I prefer something along the lines of egalitarianism, but if someone asked me if I were a feminist, I’d say yes. And, on the point of rigid gender roles, there was a study that recently came out about that. In a cross-cultural survey of some sort, they found that children in all cultures they looked at had damaging gender stereotypes by the age of 10. 10! (The link to the article, for those interested, is here.)

It’s sad that I have to explain my position as a feminist in the first place because of how twisted the word has become and not just by men, but other women/feminists. It is really sad though that we are exposed at a very young age of our roles in society and if you want a hint into an extreme version of those roles then I think The Handmaid’s Tale provides that. I know at a young age I was labeled a tomboy because I didn’t like wearing dresses and I played sports, but why does that matter? I’m still a female and I’m not a huge fan of being shoved into a box, especially at such a young age, probably younger than 10 for me. It’s frustrating when you are labeled different at a young age because you don’t like dressing up or wearing makeup, and I think it’s shaped how I see myself in a negative way.

You know that I had about the same life experience as you. I was fit into a box, then I was pushed into another one when I presented masculinely without being out as trans. Then another one after I came out to people as trans. And, isn’t it so interesting that being a tomboy is generally positive? At least when you compare it to the reactions of young boys who like makeup and dresses. Being male is seen as more positive than female, even to this day. I think that says a lot about society.

Oh absolutely! However, being a tomboy is only positive if you can put on a dress and be feminine every once in awhile. I know that I’ve struggled with that because I have no desire to wear dresses or makeup and I’m not going to just because society says I should. 

And I have the opposite. Now that I’m comfortable with my gender identity, I have to confront the issue that I do like dresses and makeup. I do. I’d be happy wearing a dress or putting on some makeup. The only reason I hated it was because I was uncomfortable with being put into the box of “female” when I’m totally not that. My mom told me she’d find it weird if I wore makeup or dresses and she’s commented on me holding her purse (because I’m a good son and hold her purse when she needs me to) is weird to her. It’s not fun to be put into boxes and you can’t escape them. So, this book is totally needed still. I know that we weren’t huge fans of the carry out.

That’s not fun at all. Frankly, the world needs to figure out that gender is a spectrum and you can be male and wear dresses and makeup or be female and wear tuxedos without it being weird. I agree that this book is just as important now as it was then, but I honestly feel like The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin is a better book when discussing gender, plus it’s more interesting.

I agree with you there. That book was more interesting than this one. It was harder to wrap your brain around, sure, but it was far more interesting. Perhaps that’s what this generation’s The Handmaid’s Tale can tackle. Gender as a whole rather than focusing on the binary view.

2 thoughts on “The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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