Welcome to the Maribyrnong Library Book Club

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This blog is an extension of our book groups which we welcome you to attend on the first Tuesday of each month.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, one of the few fertile women left in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian, patriarchal theocracy that overthrew the old United States of America by assassinating most of congress and blaming it on Islamic extremists.  Women have lost almost all their rights under the new regime and Offred’s only choice for her future is a slow death working in irradiated lands, suicide, or prove she is fertile by living as a surrogate mother for the wife of one of the powerful new commanders.

I read The Handmaid’s Tale many years ago as one of my VCE Year 12 texts and it’s easy to see why it was chosen.  Many different themes are woven into the story.  Perhaps the one that has stuck with me most over the intervening years is the idea that perhaps our relatively recent victories for race and sex equality and religious freedom aren’t as permanent as we’d like to think.  That political apathy might allow fanatics of one persuasion or another a way to regress our social development in some small or large way.

The other idea that really stuck with me was that the women in the dystopian future of The Handmaid’s Tale essentially have a counterpart in today’s society.  The most direct comparison would be with women living in nations under Islamic rule, but even within the more western religions, the role of women is still largely pushed as being subservient to men.   The theocracy depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale is a fundamentalist Christian one.  Offred’s ritualized surrogate mother role is taken from the biblical story of Rachel and Leah.  We enjoy a very liberal existence in Australia, but this book made me realize that not only are there always going to be individuals who view women as inherently inferior to men, but there are actually nations where the idea is law.

The opinions posted here are my own and not those of Maribyrnong City Council.

Michael Lay

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