The Handmaid’s Tale is a 1985 dystopian speculative novel by Margaret Atwood. The novel is set in the near future of North America and features Canada as a beacon of hope. Various devices are employed to allow Atwood to make commentaries and comparisons between the two territories in such a way that is not directly critical.
The novel explores a society which sees women in subjugation and looks at the ways in which those women can gain agency. The novel won the first ever Arthur C Clarke award in 1987 along with a variety of other awards. It has been adapted for stage, screen, radio and opera and has never gone out of print since its publication.
The novel begins with a staged terrorist attack which allows the government to enact a new regime which effectively removes women’s rights entirely and enforces a way of life based on something akin to religious fanaticism.
The story’s main protagonist is a woman named Offred, a woman who is kept by the government as a ‘handmaid’ for reproductive purposes in a society experiencing declining birth rates. In the novel, Offred presents an account of her third assignment as a handmaid to a man referred to as The Commander.
The remainder of the novel explores Offred life with The Commander and his wife and her reminiscences for her life before the regime.
A biting social commentary on the place of women The Handmaid’s Tale has the quality of allegory about it and perfectly executed prose which make this dystopian tale deeply chilling, as relevant today as it was when it was first published.