Set in a dystopian world and military dictatorship called the Republic of Gilead, the novel explores themes such as censorship, oppression and rebellion; a society where women have extremely limited freedoms and are assigns ‘roles’ such as being an Agatha – a cook and house servant or Handmaid – to provide children for powerful households through ‘the ceremony’ whereby Housemaids have sex with the male head of the household with his wife present due to the decrease in births as a result of sexually transmitted diseases.
Religious fanaticism is an undertone that runs throughout the novel, with the regime having doctored the Old Testament to legitimise and empower their cause. The narrator Offred is a Handmaid and often flicks between past and present events as well as memories throughout the novel to allows the reader to have insight into the events leading up to the patriarchal takeover. Events such as the burning of lingerie due to their ‘hyper sexualisation’ of women and the new view that the female body must be covered at all times with exposure leading to execution. In the new regime, women are robbed of many basic rights such as the freedom of speech, banned from talking to anyone outside of their household and reading.
I absolutely loved this book, it was such an interesting read and the way the novel is structured means that you are constantly drip fed new information from how the Republic was established and Offred’s life Pre-Gilead with her husband and daughter. This is one of the few books that I would definitely read again and again because the concept and execution are so captivating that you can’t help but be enticed and drawn in by it. To me the novel echoes satire of politics and social constructs in the 1980’s at the time of Atwood’s writing and can be critically analysed through feminism, politics, sociology and the hierarchal structure of society – more specifically regarding the patriarchy.
Overall this was an intensely captivating and interesting read that I can’t recommend highly enough if you’re looking for a novel that will make you think but also entertain!