Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thursday Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Today's post is going to get a little bit grumpy.  This is the review of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood I wrote on Amazon and my Grumpy Bulldog Book Reviews site.  This is an older book but it's one of those that when I read it I realized it has some relevance for 2012.

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It's just as well I didn't read this book when I bought it in December 2011 on sale.  I probably would have scoffed at the idea that a hard-line fascist patriarchy could take over what was once America.  Reading it in May 2012 now I'm not nearly as skeptical.  Hearing the hard-line stances of those like Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh infamously calling a woman a "slut" for wanting birth control makes me think there is a portion of this country that would enact something just like Atwood describes.

What she describes in "The Handmaid's Tale" is a patriarchal society where most women are stripped of all rights.  There's a caste system of sorts enacted.  At the top are the "Wives" who are (obviously) the wives of high-ranking officials in the new regime.  There are also "Econowives" who are the wives of lesser officials.  The Wives have servants called "Marthas" who toil away in the kitchens and so forth.  And then since most Wives are older and infertile, there are the Handmaids.  The Handmaids are tasked with giving birth to a baby, which is then turned over to the Wife to raise.

Now since this is a hard-line religious establishment where doctors and scientists are killed or locked up, they can't use scientific means like artificial insemination.  Instead there's a whole bizarre ritual that takes place every few nights that involves the Commander (the male head of the household) getting it on with the Handmaid while the wife is present.  There's nothing seductive or kinky about all of it; it's all pretty sterile, which might be why it's ineffective.

The person telling the tale is a Handmaid known as Offred (as in she's Fred's property).  She describes life in her household and at other intervals talks about life before the new order took over.  In that life, Offred had a real name and a husband named Luke and also a daughter.  She had a feminist mother and a lesbian friend named Moira.

I think if you want to complain about anything it's that not a lot really HAPPENS in terms of plot.  So if you were looking for a taut thriller or anything like that, then you wouldn't enjoy this.  The obvious point of comparison would be "1984".  I would also say that was a better book in that Orwell has more of a story arc concerning Winston being seduced by the "rebellion" and then betraying the one he loves in order to save his own skin, thereby crushing his spirit.  (Oh, whoops, sorry for the spoilers.)  While Atwood's book is riveting, the world she builds doesn't really go anywhere.  Offred isn't forced to make the same choices as Winston.  And I have to say I found the last 6% or so, the epilogue, to be a little corny.

Still, with the recent events I already mentioned, the hard-line anti-abortion laws being enacted in "red states" and so forth, I think this is an important book to read (or reread) at this point in history.  Especially if you're female you should read this to see the worst that can happen.

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So there you go.  About the only thing that does give me hope is that as the years go by here we'll see the old establishment of people who grew up in the 30s-50s giving way to younger people who grew up in the 70s-80s, post-Roe v Wade, post-sexual revolution, etc.  By that I mean people like me who were born in the 70s and grew up in the 80s we didn't live with all that stereotypical "Leave It to Beaver" bullshit where mom was supposed to be home every day cooking and cleaning and whatnot.  A lot of our moms had jobs, though not mine.  But I've had female bosses and co-workers everywhere I've worked, so it doesn't really threaten me that women have rights the way it does Rush Limbaugh and other old white guys.  So maybe people from my generation won't feel the need to try and oppress everyone who is different from them.  Or we'll find someone else to oppress.

Tuesday is another scintillating Two-Fer!

9 comments:

  1. Times are slowly changing. However, with the collapse of education particularly in the sciences and mathematics in this country, religion has had a huge resurgence. Along with it of course is the rise of ignorance since those who believe in the literal words of the Bible tend to be uneducated. It would be fine if these super religious fanatics would keep to themselves. But they want to enforce what their god teaches to them (and yes I say "their god" on purpose) to apply to all folks. They are quick to blame acts of nature on the sins of gays...no I'm sorry Mr. Santorum, but hurricanes are not caused by gay marriage. It's one reason why I've become a pretty vocal atheist on forums because people will say outrageous things that have no scientific backing or evidence simply because they want to believe it is true. Religion gets a pass in this country that no other thing gets. If someone walks into a room and says, "I just saw Elvis and he's alive," most of us would laugh. But someone that says "the world is 7000 years old, evolution is a lie, and you better not sin cause god will punish you!" causes people to quiet down. This person should be as ridiculed as the guy that insists Elvis is still alive. I don't get it, never will get it, and that's just the way it seems to be.

    It reminds me of this one star review that a guy gave me on the Apple store. He said in short, "This book would be a five-star book if it weren't for the twisted, convoluted warped mind of the author. The ending of this book is pure blasphemy."

    I wanted to reply, "Fucking asshole...keep your religious beliefs out of a review. I wrote a science fiction book. The key word in that is 'Fiction'."

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    1. Yeah people like that it's like, why the hell are you reading this book in the first place? I can't stand people like that who try to hold you responsible for their hangups.

      I finally got around to watching "Religulous" a couple weeks ago and it's so sad to watch these people trying to defend all this crazy stuff. In the end most just fall back on, "No one can understand God" kind of stuff. It's really sad though to think next year we could have a president who believes God lives on another planet and that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri and Jesus talked to white Native Americans.

      Incidentally, there was a big demonstration at Michigan's capital the other day because Republicans barred a state senator from being able to speak on the Senate floor for using the word "vagina" in a debate. What are these guys, 10 years old that they can't handle the name of a body part? Which is just more evidence that if you keep voting for idiot Republicans than eventually everyone who's not an old straight white guy is going to wake up one morning and find themselves virtually enslaved.

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    2. I hear you. But the republican party is awash in tons of money. I tend to think "rich" people get that way because they are secretly crooks. If you looked into any of their business dealings, you'd come across all kinds of questionable and downright awful acts they've done to other people. But they all tithe so that they get the "pass" as being good, etc. Religion and the politics involved drive me crazy.

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    3. The real issue is not that these people believe in the "literal word of the Bible," it's that they believe that without actually ever bothering to read the Bible to begin with. They have no idea what it says. On top of everything else, they latch onto all kinds of Old Testament concepts that the New Testament clearly says are no longer needed. It's ignorance on top of ignorance compounded by stupidity.

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  2. I'm probably one of those old white guys you're referring to since I grew up in the fifties and sixties, and I'm probably the same age as Rush Limbaugh, and I just want to say that many of us believe in equal rights for everyone and no longer understand the Republican party, much less respect it. America is moving in the right direction, albeit too slowly, but the wave of tolerance reflected in the polls for issues like equal pay for equal work and gay rights first took root in our generation, and it's rewarding to see these issues now being championed by the younger generations.

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    1. I'm sure Mrs. Chatterbox would be glad to know you don't want to enslave her. There probably is a silent majority out there who don't give a shit about what women do with their vaginas (or if they say vagina) but unfortunately it's the minority of zealots who are the loudest.

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  3. We're currently still in the midst of processing many different cultural revolutions that've occurred over the course of the past few decades. It's not inconceivable that there's a lot of confusion out there.

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  4. "The Handmaid's Tale" is basically a horror story for me. In many feminist circles, it gets discussed every time one of these laws pop up. As someone who doesn't want to have kids/get pregnant nowaynohowdrivemetoPPNOW it's completely enraging to know this is the climate I live in. Shit, when I lived in Japan, getting HBC was RIDICULOUS (they generally won't give it to you unless you're married, ugh) but abortions are no big deal and are incredibly prevalent. (Probably because their sex education is so awful.) But yes, Handmaid's Tale. Constant reminder that too many people view me as nothing more than my womb, which for some reason they think they get to have opinions about.

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  5. ok, i haven't read the handmaid's tale, so i can't add anything to that discussion...
    just wanted to say, it's a shame what happened over at the other blog with the whole championing thing.
    and i know i championed andrew, but it was really out of loyalty to rusty (cuz' i don't know andrew or you) but, i WILL start to follow your blog! so, looking forward to getting to know you sir!
    :)

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