Rating: 5 out of 5
Happy Victoria Day to all my Canadian readers! We here in the States don’t learn too much about Queen Victoria, unfortunately, and while I don’t really know how Canadians celebrate the queen’s birthday, I hear it’s full of fireworks, parades, and drinking–not unlike our own Memorial Day next week! So cheers to our neighbors up north!
I would have to say that the most famous Canadian author living today would be Margaret Atwood. I read her well-known novel The Handmaid’s Tale while attending UC Santa Cruz, and I immediately fell in love.
It seems only natural, since I’m never met a woman who disliked this feminist dystopian tale. Set in the near future, the Republic of Gilead (the former USA) is run by a racist, sexist, theocracy which completely reversed the progress made during the Feminist Movement of the 1970s.
In this society, women have no rights, forbidden from reading to possessing their own money. The protagonist Offred (name meaning “Of Fred,” referring to her master) serves as a handmaid, whose only job is to combat the declining birth rate and reproduce. If she fails, she’ll be declared an “unwoman” and discarded.
What’s interesting is that Offred is part of the first generation of handmaids, meaning that she remembers life pre-Gilead with her own husband and daughter. Now separated from them, the novel is written in the form of her diary as she flashes back and forth from her past and present.
Very few novels are able to create a dystopian universe that is this intricate and disturbing. Since Atwood is a devout feminist, much of the terminology in The Handmaid’s Tale is biblical, pointing to all the patriarchal notions that Christian theology encourages. Because of these allusions, Atwood has created much controversy.
I would argue that this book should shake you up. The graphic scenes of the “Ceremonies” and the overall sense that women are nothing but wombs should make you angry, frustrated, and afraid. Because you just have to read the news of the right-wing fundamentalists trying to destroy Planned Parenthood and eliminate women’s reproductive rights to understand that this story is not as far-fetched as you might think.
Clearly, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the rest of Atwood’s work, is not for everybody. Many might find her writing too radical. However, if you’re an advocate for female empowerment and you enjoy literature that is mentally stimulating, then you’ll love this novel. I know I did!
Favorite Quote: “Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.” (Ch. 23)