The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Imagine: almost overnight, a powerful political faction stages a coup, imposing totalitarian castes based on a literal Bible interpretation. The takeover involves torture, “re-education,” and strict behavioral regulations. The concept of “woman” is divided into roles – wife, childbearer, servant, etc. – and every woman is assigned just one. Our protagonist serves as a Handmaid. Named after the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, a Handmaid must conceive a child on behalf of a man and Wife.
While featuring social commentary, the novel is most remarkable for insights into isolation. The woman’s life is principally characterized by nothingness. She has enough to eat, but doesn’t choose what, when, or even if she eats. She occasionally sees others, but their conversations can’t contain information. She has access only to the full-body robes she wears, and exercises only childbirth-related muscles. Her independence flickers within miniscule rebellions – a pat of butter hidden in her shoe, a forbidden notion. A single match. Her thoughts spin and spin, like cobwebs, spiraling from a scrap of memory, and so easily brushed from the rafters.
Atwood presents a powerful thought experiment. What is left of us when there’s nothing left? It’s a horror most of us can’t truly imagine, but which will creep into the crevices of your mind.
The 213 in 2013 series chronicles every book I read in 2013. Each review contains exactly 213 words, because 2013 words is too long and 2013 characters is too dang short.