What makes dystopian fiction frightening is the prospect of truth. When I think of the genre I ponder over themes of science fiction, with tendencies that lend themselves to some kind of futuristic setting. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood offers us something that feels modern, and for that the story feels as though it could happen today. It’s not the notion of oppression through the vessel of a futuristic specter, but a hyper masculine insecurity that treads the nostalgic waters of a more outspoken, forceful, and violent patriarchy.
Our main character is a handmaid named Offred. She isn’t legally allowed to read, and any rhetoric or conduct beyond appropriate protocol could result in execution. Her primary social value is rooted in her potential to become pregnant. It is not a comfortable existence.
Offred is summoned for private and illicit meetings with her Commander. With brevity she entertains the thought of free will, but concludes that, “to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power” (136). Offred understands the conditions of her scenario, and stimulates the notion of her own interest, “To want is to have a weakness. It’s this weakness… that entices me… I want to know what he wants” (136).
It seems fitting that this book would take a place in our social consciousness, but I’ll leave political/social parallels up to you. Atwood is nothing short of fantastic.