“My name isn’t Offred…”

My New Year’s Resolution is to read a new book each month. The first book that I chose to read and write about was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the book:

This story follows the “Handmaid” with the given name, Offred. Her purpose is to breed. She lives in a society that controls the behaviours and social order of women. This dystopia is set in the future with laws that oppress women a part the Republic of Gilead. Offred belongs to The Commander with the intent of becoming pregnant with his child. If she does not fulfill her duty, she will be destined to suffer extreme consequences. This way of life was not always Offred’s reality.

To be completely honest, the reason behind my choice of The Handmaid’s Tale was due to the hype around the show. I wanted to read the book before actually watching the series and I’m so glad I did.

Speaking of the show, The Handmaid’s Tale was filmed in Cambridge, ON. The City of Cambridge website has an interactive map where you can see the filming locations of the first season. I had a fan-girl moment when I saw pictures of the Handmaid’s walking near the Grand River.

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Photo taken from The City of Cambridge interactive map

I was really intrigued by the themes that were obvious throughout the entire novel. Two of those themes are feminism and power.

FEMINISM

The entire story involves feminist elements. There were many moments in the book that really made me feel an emotional connection to Offred.

  • Women’s Bodies as a Vessel: The Handmaid’s were just seen as mere vessels to carry a child and for procreation. Reading about their sole purpose to serve as an agent for the breeding process was a hard pill for me to swallow. This reminded me of women always being asked, “so when are you going to have a baby?” Yes, babies are wonderful and beautiful miracles. But women are so much more than just the oven for a bun. In this twisted society, women were stripped of any individuality and distinction they had before belonging to Gilead. They were belittled to just a womb and two ovaries.
  • Offred’s Money Pre-Gilead: Offred mentions that as the government was being taken over, one of the laws stipulated against women being able to use their own money. All of their hard-earned dollars. Gone. She explains one moment when she tried using her debit card at the store and it didn’t work, despite having $2000 in her account. No female can make purchases, only men. So if her partner, Luke, were to make a purchase with her card; that was acceptable…

EXCUSE ME?

I tried to imagine myself in Offred’s shoes and I couldn’t. How would I feel if I wasn’t allowed to spend the money that I worked for? What would I do if I was let go from my job just because I’m a woman?

Of course, these ideas seem radical but women are dealing with gender inequality in the workplace every day.

POWER

The novel runs off of the idea of power and status. In every chapter, there were displays of power and how it affected Offred.

  • Offred and The Commander: The relationship between Offred and The Commander was strange. He took a liking to her and wanted something beyond the act of trying to conceive. At the beginning of this weird relationship, The Commander treated Offred with small luxuries such as hand lotion in exchange for her company. Once comfort was established he felt that they should take their relationship to the next level. Offred didn’t want to object to anything. The Commander was on a total power trip.
  • Offred and Serena Joy: Offred belonged to Serena Joy’s husband. When Offred had difficulty conceiving, Serena Joy wanted her to try conceiving with another man in order to increase her chances of getting pregnant. This was a violation of the rules. Breaking the law could have consequences for all parties involved but Offred would ultimately be the one to suffer.

TWISTED.  


Even though this story was disturbing, The Handmaid’s Tale was one of the best books I have read. Incorporating elements of modern issues in a society that oppressed the ones who were building it was impactful. After reading this book, Atwood left me with so many unanswered questions. Nevertheless, the story was well written and thought-provoking. If you haven’t read it, you should.

Off I go to binge-watch season 1!

-A

Next read: Wuthering Heights (My favourite book!!!)