Our next book for the Field Notes Book Group, which will be meeting at the library on March 19, 2016, from 11:00 to 12:30 (with coffee and donuts!), is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
This classic dystopian novel* was published thirty years ago (!), and is still as chilling as it was when it first came out. If you’ve never read it, you’re really missing out, and if you’ve read it before, it’s well worth another read. Copies are on hold at the Circulation Desk at the library.
The main character, Offred, was not always a Handmaid. She didn’t always live in the Republic of Gilead. Once she had a name. She had a job, a husband, a daughter, a life. Once she lived in the United States of America. Now she has none of those things, and her country is completely different (or is it?).
She has value because she is fertile, or is presumed to be. She is the Handmaid to a high ranking Commander, and it is her job every month to lie in his bed, surrounded by the legs of his wife, and have sex with him in the hopes she will get pregnant and give him an heir. She is not allowed to read, scarcely allowed to think. When she leaves the house once a week to do the shopping, there is a uniform she has to wear that reduces her to an object, all but invisible. Other women are serving women, called Marthas, and older women enforcing the new rules, called Aunts. Then there are the Wives of the important men, who have what little power is available to women in this new, frightening world.
Over the course of the book, Offred remembers how things used to be, how they came to this pass, and considers what her options are, whether she has any at this point. She misses her daughter, her husband, her independence.
Is there any escape? Could something like this happen here in America? Read, or reread, the book and then come to discuss it with the rest of the group. Should be a lively discussion!
*And yes, for those of us doing the 2016 Reading Challenge, The Handmaid’s Tale definitely qualifies as a dystopian novel for those purposes!