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The Handmaid's Tale - review

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The critic, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, considers The Handmaid's Tale to be far more than a 'political tract deploring nuclear energy, environmental waste and antifeminist attitudes'. Which features of Atwood's novel do you believe have contributed to its readability and secured its reputation as a piece of classic modern fiction? In the novel, The Handmaid's Tale, it is my opinion that the principal aspect of Atwood's writing style is the depth and intensity with which she approaches her subject matter; she consistently shows that she has researched her material and is able to show relatively potential 'alternate futures' at the time of the early 80s - it is not inconceivable to imagine certain turns of events happening as they did in the narrative. In the 1980s, the political climate globally seemed to be turning toward economic restraint and conservatism. In general, this shift was a response to the liberalism and unchecked social spending that occurred in the 1970s, which were in turn the extended results of the freedoms won by the worldwide social revolutions of the 1960s. This conservative trend appeared in different forms in different countries. In Margaret Atwood's home country of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal Party leader resigned in 1984, and the voters replaced him with Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney. ...read more.


Naturally, while rejecting the indulgent decadence and chaos of an anarchic society, the reader condemns the Gilead regime for its intolerant, prescriptive set of values that projects a tunnel vision on reality and eliminates human free will. There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it. - Aunt Lydia in R&L Re-Ed Centre, on the benefits of Gilead, Page 34 This is illustrated by the fears and agonies that Offred endures in Gilead, when human beings are not free to aspire toward whatever they wish, when choices become so severely constrained that life turns into a painfully prolonged prison term. The only idea keeping Offred going is that of survival; this impulse to survive, together with the occasional flashes of warmth and concern among the handmaids, transmits reassuring signs of hope and humanity in an otherwise chilling and depressing tale. What makes Atwood's book such a timeless tale is its clever technique in presenting the heroine initially as a voice, almost like a sleepwalker conceiving disjointed perceptions of its surroundings, as well as flashing reminiscences about a bygone life. ...read more.


almost diffidently void of any emotions, emphasizes those aspects of abstinence and solemnity imposed by the state, then progressively tyranny and corruption begin to unfold piecemeal. As the novel concludes, as the horror reaches a climax, the narrative voice assumes a fully engaged emotional tone that cleverly keeps us in suspense about the heroine's fate. This method of measured, well-punctuated revelations about Gilead connects symbolically with the novel's central meaning: misogynous dogmas, no matter how seemingly innocuous and trustworthy they may appear at their initial conception, are bound, when allowed access to power, to reveal their ruthlessly tyrannical nature. It is the sum of all these features, which can be expressed as Atwood's determination to give a balanced and unwavering depiction of possibilities yet-to-come, that contribute to the readability of the novel as a whole. Issues which were significant and relevant in the 80s have not lessened over 2 decades, and still hold appeal for readers now - the what if genre has always held an allure; what would have happened if the Civil Rights movement had failed, if the Allies had lost WW2, ad infinitum. Atwood pulls all these strands together into one final masterpiece, in which she is free to explore the attitudes - and possible attitudes - towards women and how an entire society can be manipulated by the minority. ...read more.

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