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Thursday, March 15, 2012

what I thought about "the handmaid's tale"

Here's the thing about The Handmaid's Tale: I can easily envision this in our future--remember how shaken I was when I read The Road? Any dystopian story, post-apocalyptic or not; really anything that demonstrates the rapidity with which humans turn into animals, no matter how hellish and far-fetched, is completely plausible to me. Ender's Game? Sure. 1984, The Jungle, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, The Giver, the entire Vonnegut oevre, all those books they make you read in high school to destroy your faith in humanity? Done.

John asked me what The Handmaid's Tale was about, and I sadly sniffed, "Oh, the horrible future." He looked at me in a perplexed/exasperated way, and asked, "Why do you do this to yourself?" Why do you read books like that?"

Really, why do I read these books? Why do I punish myself and seek for like-minded people to confirm my worst suspicions about my fellow human beings? In answer to John's question I told him, "So I can recognize it when it happens." I assume there is a monster lurking inside everyone around me, and only time will tell how close to the surface that monster is. Thieves, rapists, pedophiles, cannibals, murderers, tyrants . . . humans as a rule are low, repugnant, slovenly, grasping, selfish beasts, slithering around in a fetid swamp of abuse and torture. If they aren't that way now, just give them a little power, remove the fear of reprisal, or just let them pursue the implementation of their ideals to their logical endpoint, and you'll have yourself a nightmarish hellscape the most inventive sci-fi author couldn't conceive.

So The Handmaid's Tale is like if Ceausescu's vision for Romania were to happen in America, implemented by Rick Santorum. I had a general idea about the subject matter, because I have not been living in a cave on Mars, and also a long time ago I picked up my grandma's library copy, and read the part about Offred using butter as lotion. A unique and provocative story, very well-written. I teared up a few times at the sheer hopelessness of it all.

I have note upon note about the book, but I don't want to spoil it for you, so please read it so we can discuss it. I know I probably scared you off, but you want to read this book, and all the other horrible books that will make you regard your fellow man with uneasy suspicion, so you can see the multifarious ways in which our doom can be shaped. So you will know it when it comes.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

6 comments:

All8 said...

I read it an awfully long time ago. There's really only one thing I remember about the whole thing. Pretty sure you know what scene I'm talking about.

About the same time I read, 'The White Plague' by Frank Herbert. I remember liking it at the time, it will renew your feelings of hopelessness of mankind. Enjoy.

Tori said...

I will read it! I'm all in to dystopia now since I got to go to the world premiere of the Hunger Games movie.

tipsybaker said...

I'm not sure I can do this. I usually jump at your suggestions, but I fell into such a dark depression after The Road.

beckster said...

I read it when it first came out in 1985 (wow, that really dates me, doesn't it?!), so I have forgotten all detail about it. You have made me curious enough that I may read it again. I do think it is useful to remember how dreadful the basic nature of some people can be, but it is also useful to remember that all humans are not like that, maybe the majority, but not all. A lot of it is hardwired, I think. Maybe you need to balance your books between the two poles, or even better, maybe you need to read books that show people that have something redeemable about them no matter how terrible their behavior. Is this too philosophical?

Branwen said...

I read this book at school and I fell in love with it. Would definitely recommend the novel to anyone.

I remember reading an article where Atwood said that every little detail in the book has been based on various parts of cultures in the world which she researched whilst writing. It's a bit of a jump, but you could then say that the plot of the novel has gone past the 'conceivable' point and is already happening (or was/had potential in the 80s) although spread out in parts across the world.

I wouldn't say that the novel is solely depressing though. The ending is ambiguous, and depends on your reading. I'd say it's fairly hopeful particularly including the appendix (which is really a part of the story!).

tipsybaker said...

Okay, I'll read it. The comments have convinced me.