Books set in post-apocalyptic settings usually have an ominous feeling about them. You will start to get that vibe from the very first line. The Handmaid's Tale (THT) wasn't different in that regard.
Consider the following lines and you will see what I mean:
"We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
...for the games that were formerly played there
...the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone."
If you were to ask me to name one thing that I liked and disliked about the book, it would be the same:
The stains on the mattress. Like dried flower petals. Not recent. Old love...They touch with their eyes instead and I move my hips a little, feeling the full red skirt sway around me.
"Blessed be the fruit...""May the Lord open..."
We play two games. Larynx, I spell. Valance, Quince. Zygote. I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it. Limp, I spell. Gorge. What a luxury.
- Image from here
The Color Red
The book is littered with all kinds of symbols yet one is obvious and is constantly highlighted. The color red can be found in the Handmaids' dress, as well as, other places. For instance,
A Sister dripped in blood.Hope is rising in me, like sap in a tree. Blood in a wound. We have made an opening,
The Relevance Today
There are certain themes that make this book highly relevant even after three decades. Let us look at some of them:
Hoarding of Knowledge (Religious and Otherwise)
Women's Position in Society
Women's efforts and sacrifices being undermined constantly
Consider the scene where Janine is about to give birth. The instruments and methods being used are outdated. One of them, the birthing stool, can seat two persons, instead of one. To me, it felt like the construction of the stool had two purposes or one depending on how you choose to see it:
- The Wives being reminded of their inability to produce children by having to sit on the stool during the delivery and be humiliated.
- The Handmaids being reminded that all the sacrifice that they went through didn't change anything. Their seat is also lower than the Wives', which pretty much sealed the deal for me.
Getting Used to Something Equated with Things Getting Better
For the generations that come after, Aunt Lydia said, it will be so much better. The women will live in harmony together, all in one family; you will be like daughters to them, and when the population level is up to scratch again we’ll no longer have to transfer you from one house to another because there will be enough to go round.
Provided that this comes to us via Offred, here is a look at what the Wives thought of the Handmaids:
Will Serena Joy talk about me like that, if I do as she wants?Agreed to it right away, really she didn’t care, anything with two legs and a good you-know-what was fine with her. They aren’t squeamish, they don’t have the same feelings we do. And the rest of them leaning forward in their chairs, My dear, all horror and prurience. How could she? Where? When?
Women Subjugating Women
...the best and most cost-effective way to control women for reproductive and other purposes was through women themselves. For this there were many historical precedents; in fact, no empire imposed by force or otherwise has ever been without this feature: control of the indigenous by members of their own group.
Our attitude towards each other is largely responsible for how the rest of the world treats us. This was as relevant 30 years ago as it as today!
The excerpt below combines all of it: the gender discrimination, the generational brainwashing, the knowledge hoarding etc.
Are they old enough to remember anything of the time before, playing baseball, in jeans and sneakers, riding their bicycles? Reading books, all by themselves? Even though some of them are no more than fourteen – Start them soon is the policy, there’s not a moment to be lost – still they’ll remember. And the ones after them will, for three or four or five years; but after that they won’t. They’ll always have been in white, in groups of girls; they’ll always have been silent.
Women can’t hold property any more, she said. It’s a new law. Turned on the TV today?No, I said.It’s on there, she said. All over the place. She was not stunned, the way I was. In some strange way she was gleeful, as if this was what she’d been expecting for some time and now she’d been proven right. She even looked more energetic, more determined.
Issues I Spotted
The book wasn't perfect and had some issues, including the fact that the main character doesn't really change over the course of the story.
I also found the ending somewhat a letdown. After investing so much of my emotion into reading what went on with Offred, I think I deserved to know what happened to her.
Allusions and Similarities
When Offred is talking/praying to God, her words are:
I wish You’d answer. I feel so alone. All alone by the telephone. Except I can’t use the telephone. And if I could, who could I call? Oh God. It’s no joke. Oh God oh God. How can I keep on living?