I really like Margaret Atwood’s stories. She’s an absolute crafts-woman with words and can convey an idea in a word, a short sentence or in this specific instance, in a whole book. The much awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s tale goes deeper into this new world and offers a view from the inside as well as a birds-eye outlook from the outside.
“Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate” –
states Victor Frankenstein in the opening of his narrative. Through Frankenstein’s acquiring of this “natural philosophy”, we can already make a link to a broader view of society. His early access to these books of science to which he quickly becomes obsessed with comes solely through his social class – a privilege that the creature he creates does not have the luxury of. Through knowledge comes power, and this instant hierarchy through social class is a reflection of society in the 1800s, upper classes having access to the best education and through this, separating themselves from the lower classes. Shelley reflects this through victor’s narrative voice, which is eloquently spoken and rich in figurative language –
“I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead and found passage to life, aided only by one glimmering and seemingly ineffectual light” being a prime example of not only his fluency of articulation but cultural knowledge.
Furthermore, the creature’s discovery of books such as “paradise lost” when observing the “lower class” family in the woods educates him not on science but rather on humanity and the human condition.
This essay was first published on Reading Our Way to the Revolution on May 19, 2015.
It’s no secret that The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the great Canadian novelist, took religious and right wing attempts to control women’s reproductive lives one step further and created a dystopian future. As always with good future fantasy, it was fun to watch her spin believable gold out of current dross, complete with everyday detail and made-up scholarly notes. This was the focus of reviews when the book came out in 1985, and again when it became a movie five years later.
But in the last two decades, I think we’ve learned that Atwood’s novel should be read—or read again—as a warning about patriarchy and its control of reproduction as the underpinning of everything undemocratic, from our own powerful rightwing minority to totalitarianism.
Let’s just say this novel is not exactly fiction.
I should explain that in Atwood’s future, the religious/military/economic groups among us have gradually turned the United States into the Republic of Gilead. You might say that the Moral Majority has finally lived up to its name. Powerful people are so white, religious, and universal that they are assumed to be everyone except the workers they command.
Following Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAdam, I decided to try another dystopian future book by Margaret Atwood. I picked A Handmaid’s tale from the bookshelf and I can’t put it down. Despair is interwoven with a strong desire to die. The handmaid is a captive, with no other purpose as to produce children for the barren Wives, a walking womb.