November will bring with it a lot of great things to campus: and end to the heat, the changing of the leaves, and a good excuse for pumpkin spice lattes. November also means a campus lecture by award-winning Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
Atwood will be speaking about her fame book, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which also happens to be one of my favorites. The book comments on such high concepts as gender, class, individuality and morality through the eyes of an everyday person thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” takes place in the near future in the Republic of Gilead. Formerly the United States, Gilead came into being after a radical army of extremists overthrew the existing government. Almost overnight, this formerly modern land is thrown back in time, undoing years of progress. Women are fired from their jobs and have their bank accounts frozen, making easy escape impossible.
Infertility-inducing illness runs rampant, threatening to make Gilead’s reign short-lived until a solution is put into place. Almost every woman in the nation now has a short list of options: to make babies, to care for those babies or to keep house. Among these women are: Offred, who was formerly the young married mother of a daughter; Offred’s mother, a radical feminist who dreamed of an entirely separate culture for women; and Serena Joy, a televangelist who wished for the same, albeit with a different set of standards. However, as countless past stories have warned, they should have been careful what they wished for.
Offred’s mother and Serena Joy got what they wanted; women’s lives are radically different, and entirely separate, from men’s. They are now divided into different ranks: Wives, who wear blue, are the brides of powerful men. Econowives, married to lower-ranking men, wear multicolored dresses. Marthas, household servants, wear green, and Handmaids, simultaneously the most revered and hated women in Gilead, wear red. Daughters wear white, and infertile or otherwise nonconformist women, known as “unwomen,” have more, but bleaker, prospects.
Our narrator and protagonist, Offred (whose real name may or may not be revealed in the first chapter if you look closely), is a formerly modern woman still trying to adjust to her new life. Offred is a Handmaid, a vessel for the future children of her Commander Fred and his wife Serena Joy. Every aspect of her life down to her name, meaning “of Fred,” is dictated by the Republic’s patriarchal interpretations of fundamentalist Christianity. Her daily life revolves around trips to the grocery, worry for her husband and daughter, distrust of her Commander and fellow Handmaids, dealing with boredom, and trying to get pregnant with a child she will not be able to keep. Told partially in flashback, the book reflects upon Offred’s friends, family, the world at large and what will become of them.
This book is an examination of why extremism of any kind can only lead to trouble and how, ultimately, humans are not meant to fit rigid molds. I suggest that everyone, regardless of gender, major or age, should go out and read it now.