Atwood’s novel can be the female equivalent of George Orwell’s iconic oeuvre, 1984.

By Jayita Sardar in Reviews 20/12/2019

If you are a woman, imagine one day you wake up and turn up at your work- place after a tedious commute. Your head is buzzing with all the ideas you have to pitch, all the meetings with you have to attend and all the presentations you have to give. You put your purse on the desk and go over the coffee machine to fuel yourself for the day.  After coming back to your desk what do you see? Men in military uniform with semi-automatics are crowding behind your transparent glassdoor. Their stone-cold stare exudes that they mean business. They are here to convey a message of great significance from the government. Women can’t work anymore, according to the new law passed by the government. Law that derives its legitimacy from God’s sacred commandment. Women are to bear children and abide orders from men. Infuriated and startled, you come out of your office and start anticipating what’s coming next on your home. You stop by the ATM for some quick dough and the glinting letters on the ATM screen throws you into another limbo. Your account is gone, too. God doesn’t want women to hold property.

 

So many women in different parts of the world don’t imagine any of these. They live through these adversities every day.

 

Margaret Atwood in her ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ envisions a dystopian society set in America of not-so-distant future. The formerly ‘land of free, home of brave’ is now governed by a theocratic and totalitarian regime. Universities are closed down, films and music are banned and playboys are burnt along with any books that aren’t in consonance with regime’s ‘Christian ethos’, women and men are put into watertight compartments in relation with their roles and responsibilities. And needless to say, transgression is awarded with death and corpses of dissenters are hung on the wall to serve a warning to anyone who is still left with the faintest spirit.

 

Our protagonist Offred is one of the handmaids or fertile woman, who is still capable of conceiving children in an era where sterility is prevalent due to radiation contamination. Handmaids are a group of women who serve as a broodmare for the state. They are to engage in fornication with Commanders, an elite group of powerful men who are in charge of running the county. Handmaids are to live in Commanders’ household with their wives and maids who are called Marthas. In the presence of wives, Commanders will impregnate handmaids. The ritual is called ‘ceremony’.

 

The novel is written as a first-hand account of Offred, formerly known as June. Through her eyes, we see a country where hopes, aspiration and humanity of individual citizens, apart from a few powerful men, are crushed brutally. We see glimpses of Offred’s past life during her monologue. She had a daughter, a job and a home with her husband, Luke. She reminisces her memories with them to escape from the harrowing present.

 

Atwood’s pen vividly illustrates the pain, trauma, despair and vulnerability of Offred. The daily violation she is subjected to eerily resembles the present-world hostility women have to endure in many countries.

 

Atwood’s book also subtly critiques the notion of attaching women’s worth to their fertility. America of today still doesn’t didn’t completely accept women’s right to self-determination. Abortion right is still not accessible to all women and it is getting tougher to terminate an unwanted pregnancy due to religious intervention in the state machinery. At this juncture, the book does an impactful job at pointing out the red flags people of consciousness should be wary of. It explains what kind of development leads to the conception of a totalitarian regime.

 

In many ways, Atwood’s novel can be the female equivalent of George Orwell’s iconic oeuvre, 1984.

 

 

Putting our fates and autonomy into the hands of self-styled messiahs in the times of crisis can end up being catastrophic. It is comforting to imagine that a powerful, charismatic leader will supply all the quick solutions to our problems. But Fascism has proven again and again it will only lead to a downward spiral. The book teaches us to be assertive about our rights and advocate about those who can’t.  In an era, where authoritarianism is raising its ugly heads again, this book relevant is right now than ever.

 

 

 


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