The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in the USA. The USA you know is replaced with Gilead after a extremist Christian organization called the Sons of Jacob suspends the constitution after killing the President, the entire Congress, and the judges of the Supreme Court. The public is told that this was a terrorist attack and that normalcy shall return within a short time. However, little do they know that their lives will be changed forever.

Under the new regime, women and men are both affected but it the women who suffer the most. Women are fired from their jobs and their bank accounts are frozen with their funds being transferred to their husbands or male next-of-kin. Women are told that their rightful place is their house and that it was a mistake to educate them; a mistake they vow not to repeat again. Reading is forbidden and anyone found reading has heir hands cut off. Thus women are crippled economically especially those who are unmarried.

Women are then segregated based on whether or not they are able to produce babies. They are told that the biological destiny of women is to reproduce and other things distracted them from their duty in the past. We are told that in the pre-Gilead days, many women were suffering from issues of childbirth like miscarriages. Very few babies survived and those who were born usually had some genetic mutations. The reason, we are told, were radiation from nuclear power plants, chemical waste from industries, and excessive use of pesticides.
Old women and those unable to conceive are sent to the Colonies. There most women last only 3 years as they cleanup toxic waste. The few lucky ones are sent to the areas where they are employed in farming. Some are employed as house servants where they are called Marthas.

Men are divided into classes as well. Many basic freedoms like having a wife are taken away and are given to you as you move up the class structure. In the novel, a lot of men are seen to be employed in security. While some people manage to escape to Canada, most are trapped and unable to leave. Jews are extradited and homosexuals are killed.

The novel is narrated by Offred who is a handmaid assigned to one of the many Commanders. She cannot use her real name and the name Offred means belong to Fred. The sole purpose of the handmaids is to produce babies for the Commanders who have been found to be unsuccessful otherwise with their Wives. Offred, like many others, had her daughter taken away and husband killed while trying to escape. She was then sent to the Red Center for training as a handmaid.
Most of the novel then revolves around this new society and how Offred manages to bear the torture – emotional, mental and physical that her role demands on a day-to-day basis.

The key themes are subversion, subservience, and the struggle to stay committed to living despite the many troubles of life. It is hope that helps Offred live and occupies a big part of her mental monologue.

I believe that the reading experience conveys the mental state of Offred very well. The world is created through memories and events in an engaging manner. Her helplessness and isolation are portrayed artfully. We jump between the past and the present regularly. The construction of the characters is very interesting. However, the gloom and doom makes it a difficult and sometimes chilling reading experience which speaks of the skill of the writer. The lack of closure at the end did left me somewhat disappointed. The TV series based on the novel does a good job of bringing the world to life and would serve as an excellent experience as well.

Rating: 3/5