After countless suggestions that I should read The Handmaid’s Tale if I liked dystopian novels, I finally picked up a copy. I’m glad that I read it, but I’m sorry that I read it so late after reading so many other novels with the same theme because I came to it with jaded eyes.
In a nutshell, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a newly-formed theocracy in the United States where men and women have disparate roles. Women are further broken down into specific tasks: wives, whose job is to oversee household affairs, Marthas, who take care of kitchen tasks, and Handmaids whose job is to reproduce — a womb with two legs.
Many describe the novel’s themes as a feminist dystopia, which is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, the feminist message came off too heavy-handed for me. The multiple references to porn-mag burnings, the narrator’s feminist mother, the Underground Femaleroad — all was a bit too much.
While reading the book, I kept debating whether the events seem plausible at all. On the one hand, factors leading up to the establishment of the theocracy such as the crazy religious right, the anti-Islamic sentiment, the loosening of morals, the movement towards electronic cash are all pertinent to what’s happening today. On the other hand, maybe I have too much faith in the intelligence and strength of people, I can’t imagine everyone just sitting around and taking it if some radical group overthrew the government and forced everyone into very specific gender roles and stringent regulations. But then, I think of the Patriot Act and I get paranoid about it.
In the end, I was glad I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale even if it didn’t live up to its hype. Its feminist slant makes it different from any of the other novels I’ve read, but I still couldn’t help feeling like I’ve read some of the passages before.