This 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood is a chilling story of what a future America could be like if strict Christian fundamentalists took over the government.
The men in charge of what was formerly the United States - now called "The Republic of Gilead" - have stripped away all women's rights.
They are no longer allowed to read, write, smoke, drink, or talk with others except when necessary. They can't use their real names. They now identify themselves by the word "of" plus the first name of the Commander they are assigned to at the time.
The Handmaid's Tale is told by Offred, who once had a husband and daughter, but has no idea what has happened to either of them. She's now forced to be the handmaid of a high-ranking officer.
Her Commander's wife, Serena Joy, had been a televangelist in the previous society. She'd preached the virtues of women staying in the home. Which, of course, she did not do at the time. Now she is forced to do just that, in a world she helped to create.
Although Serena Joy is a Wife, the highest social level allowed women, and has some authority over the other classes of women, she has no real freedom.
All females in the Republic of Gilead are divided into categories. They wear different colors of clothing according to the group to which they belong.
Wives wear blue, Daughters wear white until they are married. These are arranged marriages, of course.
Handmaids wear red. These are women of child-bearing age who are (hopefully) fertile and able to bear children for the Commander and his wife.
If she is successful in delivering a healthy baby, she must immediately give it up to the Wife. The handmaid is then passed on to another household for the same purpose.
As the handmaid of Commander Fred Waterford, Offred lives with him and his wife, Serena Joy.
Handmaids are allowed only in certain parts of the house. Offred spends most of her time in her room, which has been stripped of anything that could be used for a suicide attempt. She eventually learns the handmaid before her had hanged herself in that room.
Sex with handmaids is for reproduction only. And on the night of the "Ceremony" when the Commander attempts to impregnate her, the Wife is present.
I won't even attempt to describe this disturbing scene. It seems distasteful to all three of them, especially to the women.
The Handmaid's Tale is a riveting story. It's also horrifying. Especially if the reader is aware that right now (in 2022) religious extremists are fighting their way into places of power. They have been for some time and have gained a lot of ground over the years.
Many evangelicals would love to control the government. Some of these folks would be fine with turning the United States into their own version of Gilead.
* * *
I attended a fundamentalist church in the early eighties.
They think they have the only truth and they want their beliefs to be the law of the land. They consider other religions and belief systems not only wrong, but satanic.
I've watched their progress over the years. Change doesn't happen instantaneously. But there are clues along the way.
We hear disturbing things happening now and then. New laws that restrict the rights of certain groups. Bad treatment of some of our citizens. But too often we don't pay much attention if it doesn't affect us.
the day comes when it does seem as if what's going on happened
overnight. The day that affects all of us. The oppressors are in
control, and now it is too late.
The Handmaid's Tale serves as a wake-up call for us to pay attention to what is going on in our country. Keep current on politics. Know your candidates as well as you possibly can. Vote!
We never want to find ourselves living in a world where our freedom is only a memory.
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