In this multi-award-winning, bestselling novel, Margaret Atwood has created a stunning Orwellian vision of the near future. This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate "Handmaids" under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred' s persistent memories of life in the "time before" and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. Provocative, startling, prophetic, and with Margaret Atwood's devastating irony, wit, and acute perceptive powers in full force, The Handmaid's Tale is at once a mordant satire and a dire warning.
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Humanity is so adaptable, my Mother would say. Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.
"Well officially," he says. "But everyone's human, after all."
I wait for him to elaborate on this, but he doesn't, so I say, "What does that mean?"
"It means you can't cheat Nature," he says. "Nature demands variety, for men. It stands to reason, it's part of the procreational strategy. It's Nature's plan." I don't say anything, so he goes on. "Women know that instinctively. Why did they buy so many different clothes, in the old days? To trick the men into thinking they were several different women. A new one each day."
"So now that we don't have different clothes," I say, "you merely have different women." This is irony , but he doesn't acknowledge it.
"It solves a lot of problems," he says, without a twitch.
With that man you wanted it to work, to work out. Working out was also something you did to keep your body in shape, for the man. If you worked out enough, maybe the man would too. Maybe you would be able to work it out together, as if the two of you were a puzzle that could be solved; otherwise, one of you, most likely the man, would go wandering off on a trajectory of his own, taking his addictive body with him and leaving you with bad withdrawal, which you could counteract by exercise.
If you don't like it, change it, we said, to each other and to ourselves. and so we would change the man, for another one. Change, we were sure, was for the better always. We were revisionists; what we revised was ourselves.
The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total. We were waiting, always for the incarnation. That word, made flesh.
And sometimes it happened, for a time. That kind of love comes and goes and is hard to remember afterwards, like pain. You would think, I loved you, and the tense would be past, and you would be filled with a sense of wonder, because it was such an amazing and precarious and dumb thing to have done; and you would know too why your friends had been evasive about it, at the time.
We've given them more than we've taken away, said the Commander. Think of the trouble they had before. Don't you remember the singles' bars, the indignity of high school blind dates? The meat market. Don't you remember the terrible gap between the ones who could get a man easily and the ones who couldn't? Some of them were desperate, they starved themselves think of pumped their breasts full of silicone, had their noses cut off. Think of the human misery.
Better never means better for everyone, he (The Commander) says. It always means worse, for some.
Knowing was a temptation. What you don't know won't tempt you, Aunt Lydia use to say.
But she (Aunt Lydia) knew too the spiritual value of bodily rigidity, of muscle strain: a little pain cleans out the mind, she'd say.
What the commander said is true. One and one and one and one doesn't equal four. Each one remains unique, there is no way of joining them together. They cannot be exchanged, one for the other. They cannot replace each other.
You can only be jealous of someone who has something you think you ought to have.
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Offred lives in a society where women are valued purely for their ability to reproduce because of rampant bareness caused by radioactive materials. Offred is one of the handmaids who are forced to procreate under the direct supervision of their commanding 'wives'. Offred had a family and a child of her own which were taken from her when she was forced to become property. All aspects of her life are controlled on pain of death. Things start to spiral downward when her Commander (baby daddy) starts speaking to her outside of the prearranged time he promises her glimpses of her old life. She is also forced into a sexual encounter with one of the servant men after her commanding wife feels the commander is incapable of getting her pregnant. She continues on this relationship even though she is afraid of being found out. The book ends rather abruptly when Offred is taken away in a van which is known to dispose of rebellious handmaids. It is implied that her lover helps her escape although it is ambiguous.