Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale

The future is bleak according to Margaret Atwood. The novelist's The Handmaid's Tale warns us of a world post-national tragedy where women have no rights and conveniences like technology are greatly restricted.

What it's about

Offred narrates her experiences in America after the United States government has fallen and the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian government, has taken over. The population is freaking out over not having enough babies, so women young and healthy enough to bear children are forced to be Handmaids (concubines). Despite having minor chores, Offred's main purpose is to produce a baby for her master, a high powered official, and his wife.

The protagonist remembers the world before Gilead. She constantly refers back to her husband Luke and her best friend Moira. While Offred is somewhat passive, she increasingly takes risks to silently rebel against the society in order to be free and to find her daughter (who was taken from her by the government).

This seemingly perfect society actually catapults Offred into witnessing or participating conflicts involving sex, jealousy, manipulation, prostitution, torture, and board games.

Your favorite part will be

Scenes with Offred's foil character and best friend Moira. Outspoken and strongly sarcastic, the feminist Moira offers mild humor in a bleak world.

The cause-y angles

Women's rights

  • As in, they have none. After the strict government takes over, women's bank accounts are frozen and the society doesn't allow them individuality.
  • Handmaids must wear shapeless clothing as to not tempt men with their shape, and their headdresses conceal almost all aspect of their faces.
  • While the "wives" caste allows Fred's wife Serena Joy to be among the highest powered women in society, but she is still unhappy because of the male-dominated society.
  • Make up and similar products are banned for women.
  • The society considers infertility a fault, and therefore the government believes women are only capable of infertility.

Human trafficking

  • The protagonist's forced name, Offred, indicates that she is of her master Fred.
  • Offred is forced to serve her master and his wife. She is forced to have intercourse with him. She has no human rights, such as free speech or access to education and books.


  • The fall of the United States government was a staged attack blamed on Islamic extremists.
  • The Republic of Gilead values the white male. Non-white citizens and women are placed low in the class system.
  • Gay men are known as "Gender Traitors" and are executed or exiled.

Human Rights

  • Gilead has a ecological wasteland referred to as "the colonies" where people who the government deems as undesirable are sent. This includes infertile women, women who have birthed a baby with a disability, religious and racial minorities, or gays and lesbians.
  • The government claims to send most blacks to a specialized colony and Jews to Israel, but later in the novel it is suggested that they are ultimately murdered.


  • Those part of the highest class may receive it, but women and racial minorities in servitude are not allowed to be educated. Furthermore, books are strictly censored. For instance, the study of foreign language is non-existent.