I never read The Handmaids Tale in high school. I graduated before the book was published. If I had though I am pretty sure I would not have “got it”. I didn’t have the life experience to comprehend what Margaret Atwood was writing about. I would have only learned through current life examples, at the time, through news or history lessons. When I graduated from Erindale Secondary School in Mississauga (in 1979) the only parallels to The Handmaids Tale I would’ve known of were the Khomeini in Iran and the Soviet Russia, which while severely cracked was still in one piece. If I were to read and discuss Atwood’s ‘1984’ in high school I would have been far too influenced by the teacher’s impressions. Honestly, at that time, it would have not made me enjoy the book.
It is only now, 38 years later that I can say I read The Handmaids Tale and enjoyed every page. This is not a knock on Margaret Atwood, but back then I was reading books about a fictional Canadian takeover of America by Richard Rohmer and music biographies. Yes, it is now after 38 years after graduating from high school that I could read the book, appreciate the book, understand the book and fear the outcome of a world that seems too real.
Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail (April 29, 2017) wrote “Are we living the The Handmaids Tale?” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/are-we-living-in-the-handmaids-tale/article34843333/) . Wente discusses the recent calls from Vanity Fair, The New Yorker that under recent events women’s rights are under attack. She says “…the book is regarded as prophetic…more than ever people are convinced that women’s rights are under threat…”.
Wente and others are not wrong, and as a man reading a book that reduces women to providers of children and to complete the simplest of duties it scares me to think what happens when some have too much influence. Maybe purposely, but they also forget that in The Handmaids Tale men to things – also reduced to simple chores, driving a car, gardening and impregnating the Handmaid. In The Handmaids Tale we see that men are afforded certain luxuries taken from women – access to computers for work purposes only), information and reading. In the book we do not know what the Commander of the house does, where he goes from 9 – 5 and how he earns his status in the new state. His marriage is just a marriage, not a marriage – a partnership or something to enjoy – but never a marriage. To keep appearances, there are a lot of whispers, clandestine signals and prohibited rendezvous. The Commander and his wife are under the same roof, but do not live under it.
While not to the extent that the rights of women have been taken away, the Commander and others like him also lost in the Gilead. The freedom and happiness that the Commander seeks can only be done in secret. His midnight meetings with his handmaid only to talk and play scrabble show us that in a world that creates a strict doctrine, it removes the simple joys of life we take for granted. The Commander has to sneak out with the handmaid to be able to have enjoyable sex with her, sex for procreating is not fun in Gilead – it is a job and if either person involved this duty fail, whatever little they have now is taken away. Banishment from the ‘good life’ and the few accommodations allowed in Gilead are removed.
Atwood correctly identifies that women are not things and portrays an image of what feminists fight for everyday. But, she also identifies that men also suffer under strict doctrines and in The Handmaids Tale while not advocating for what might be called masculinism, she is warning that under the control of few, the many lose.
After reading The Handmaids Tale, a friend of mine send a recommendation for more Atwood via Twitter:
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