"The Handmaid's Tale: Mayday! Mayday!"

Essay by aquaeden November 2005

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I read this one a long time ago, when it was first released. It was the cover of the book that caught my eye, the woman looking like someone out of a Brueghel painting, her face and body obscured by red and white.

If you're an educated woman, this is a terrifying novel to read. It shows in sparse, poetical language of a dystopia gone mad, where fundamental Christianity has run rampant, where Thou Shalt Not has replaced Love Your Neighbor with crushing brutality. And also, just how far we have come in our society to having freedom to choose and how easily it can be stripped away. (A dystopia, by the way, is the opposite of a Utopia -- so this is a place where very few people are happy and taken care of.)

In Gilead (in what was once known as the United States), a woman is only valued for her work, as a Wife, as a Martha (a drudge) or as a Handmaid.

The handmaids are walking wombs, vital only for the children that they can bear - if they can. Their lives, circumscribed by horrifying rituals, are centered around the prayer of make me fertile. For if they can not bear children, a sentence of living death in clearing up a toxic waste - or worse - awaits them.

This is the story of one such Handmaid, Offred.

Shorn of her name, of her family, of privacy and her past, she is forbidden to read, to communicate with men, her vision blinded by her concealing headdress, enwombed in clothing of crimson that declare, I am Forbidden, do not touch, Offred struggles to hang onto whatever shreds of herself that she can. She can not trust anyone, lives with jealousy and fear; she seeks that most basic...