The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel exploring an alternative reality where a lower class female’s place in society is purely to uphold traditional Victorian values and produce children for wealthy, upper-class couples. The novel clearly draws inspiration from the horrors of Nazi Germany where women were forced to live by the slogan “kinder, küche, kirche” which translates to “children, kitchen, church” and give up the freedoms they had experienced under the Weimar government. Throughout the novel, Margaret Atwood clearly depicts the strong power all religions have over people even in a modern society through characters like Ofwarren who’s convinced that being a handmaid is her destined place at the start of the novel. The powerful modern feminist themes and horrific setting makes the novel unique and one of the most influential novels despite being written 34 years ago.

 Despite being written in 1985 the novel explores current topics like mental health through Offred whose mental health appears to deteriorate throughout the novel as she experiences life in the uncanny city of Gilead which has displaced her home. The novel clearly illustrates how any religious text or beliefs can be twisted like “under his eye” which in the bible means God is always watching over you but the people in control of Gilead twist it to show the handmaids they are owned and always under surveillance.

Atwood’s repetition of the title “Night” for several chapters is a clever way of reflecting the regularity of the women in the novel’s lives as they serve each day much like a prison sentence possibly relating to women in 1980s America who were mainly still expected to stay at home and serve their families despite gaining some social freedom. Atwood’s clear feminist themes call for a drastic change in society as women living in America in 1985 had far less protection from sexual harassment and violence and had fewer opportunities in terms of work and education. However, with current campaigns like the Me Too campaign bringing stories of harassment and violence to light Atwood’s message remains prevalent today.  

The novel should definitely be bumped up to the top spot on your reading list unless you’re trying to avoid distractions as this book will have you hooked due to Margaret Atwood’s extraordinary ability to create a society straight out of a nightmare.

By Teena P