The Handmaid’s Tale

by Margaret Atwood

Read time: about 6 minutes

Sometimes I think these scarves aren’t sent to the Angels at all, but unraveled and turned back into balls of yarn, to be knitted again in their turn. Maybe it’s just something to keep the wives busy, to give them a sense of purpose. But I envy the commander’s wife her knitting. It’s good to have small goals that can be easily attained.’

Such are the thoughts of Offred. Her days are comprised of demeaning activities, and nights. Of course, nights which are sometimes less eventful than the others, but still, eventful. Margaret Atwood scored a nomination for Booker prize for this book in 1987 and since then it has become probably the most read book of her. A modern classic, as often bracketed in, this book is a great amalgamation of theories such as feminism, war fiction and science fiction.

Cover page

Vintage’s future edition is the copy I posses. These editions have a common cover designs. There is an image on the cover which is maligned by the continuous lines through in one direction as seen through a futuristic scope. This image looks like a peek into the future which is continuously haunting. The back cover is swirl into the darkness. The spine is clean. It is where the information is, such as the title, publisher’s name and bar-code. There are, seemingly, nine books in the editions. I intend to acquire some more of these soon, not just for their cover but clean typography.


The book is story of Offred during wartime. It is time where each citizen is required to be useful and it is what is expected of Offred too. Offred is expected to make use of her breeding ability to grant her commander and his wife a child. Male preferably, but child more so. Offred is a calm woman who has a tornado swirling inside of her. She wants to be loved, to be teased and hopes for a future other than what she is bestowed upon. She is trying to understand the difference between ‘freedom to and freedom from’ and finding the silver lining where she could be happy in her state. She has also lost her own identity. She wants all of it back.

There is Commander in whose household Offred works. Commander is a sly male who secretly hates the current regime where women are either boring or sacrificial. He is looking for a tinge of tease in life. Just a spark enough to light a fire but not burn his house down.

Selena Joy is the wife of the commander. Selena is jealous of the handmaids who come to her house and get to lie naked in front of the commander once a month. This is when she is not busy with pointless activities such as tending the plants in her garden and knitting. These activities must have been meant for bored housewives who wanted to distract themselves from their preoccupied cheating husbands and a houseful of maids who talk behind their backs. And so they found a perfect fit in each other.


There was a time where the birth rate was in huge decline. These maybe due to the recorded increase in the birth control measures, the nuclear plants accidents, leakages from different biological sites and extensive use of insecticides and other sprays. Several states began reacting to these by shutting down abortion clinics and use of birth controls. The fertility and births were proportional to the wages one received. Several resorted to polygamy but certain sects disobeyed it completely citing religious reasons.

History changes. Government topples. Women lose their jobs. Second marriages, live-in relationships de-recognized, same sex marriages were scorned upon. Women were used by the upper class to breed.

All this, was a slow jolt to Offred who used to be an independent woman who made choices for her own life. She was in denial for a long time but when she planned her escape is when she got caught. Now she finds herself in the house of her Commander and his wife, dressed in red and sent for, once a month, to conceive a child.

This is Offred’s story. And many others like her. This is a story of women whose worth were measured by their fertility.


Offred is not meant to say much. Or anything. So she thinks. She thinks a lot in her head. Her thoughts wander. And so does Atwood’s writing. The writing is spilled all over like how thoughts are. There are too many descriptions. Too many feelings. Too many inferences. There are also alternate scenarios which the character imagine in her head and then the line of reality and imagination blurs till she doesn’t quite know which version of it in her head is the real one.

Overall the language is dreamy. It is coming directly from someone’s head, therefore its viscous.

Good points

Everything. The cover page is thoughtful. Vintage segregates the genre with its covers beautifully. The characters are multidimensional. They all possess a need for something else and this drives them into action. The concept is as close to reality as it could be. The narration is hauntingly beautiful.

Bad points

The end could appear a little abrupt but the historical significance towards the end explains the sudden end. But there is definitely an eagerness to know more.


The book is a classic, true to the word.

Who do I recommend this to

This book is for classic lovers. Those who like unusual narration are going to enjoy this. Those who like dystopian novels but are tired of young adult fiction are going to enjoy this one. Feminists are going to find this book appealing.

Quotable quotes

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.

It gave us more freedom. When we lived in the gaps between the stories.

Even his singing worries me. We’ve been warned not to look too happy.

But remember that forgiveness too is power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.

We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.

For him, I must remember, I am only a whim.

It’s over, in seconds, and the traffic on the street resumes as if nothing had happened. What I feel is relief. It wasn’t me.

I’m sorry there is so much pain in this story. I’m sorry it’s in fragments, like a body caught in crossfire or pulled apart by force. But there is nothing I can do to change it.

Go ahead, grab yourself a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale and tell us what you think about the book! If you are a Kindle person, ensure to select the Kindle edition of the book.

The Handmaid’s Tale

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH