Friday, July 5, 2019

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood



The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood
Published 1986

Humanity is so adaptable…truly amazing, 
what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations. 

I just finished re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. When I read it in 1990, and saw the film, I was engrossed; but I did not have the opinions or worldview that I do now, and therefore, I did not have a personal response. Today I have so much to say. Where do I begin? I will write and let it flow naturally.

First of all, I could not put the book down. I thought it would make me completely angry, but instead it drew me in and would not let me go. I do favor dystopian stories, and this one was really fascinating.

The narrator, the main character, told her story in a kind of daze. She jumped between her distant and recent past, in addition to the present, recounting broken stories of her life; it worked really well, and I was able to naturally follow her thoughts, make the connections, and complete the story. Some information was missing from the puzzle, and in the end, I was left to speculate what may have happened to her. 

The main character was the Handmaid, Offred, who left behind this written account of her personal story, to preserve her history or to be used as evidence. Handmaids were young women of childbearing age, deemed immoral due to their past history of rape, adultery, fornication, or other sexual sins, and were now loaned out as property to older elite couples who were part of the new regime and unable to have children. Elite women carried the blame for barrenness, though in truth they knew that men were also liable. Infertility was blamed on environmental toxins, the overuse of birth control, STDs, and the laziness of women (and men) who no longer desired to have children. 

AMERICA'S PURITAN ROOTS

Stoney Ground by Edwin Abbey, 

Atwood set the story in present day America and carefully included only injustices and oppressions that had already been committed throughout history. She wanted her story to be believable and did not want to leave anything to the imagination. She also knew, and I agree, “that established orders could vanish overnight.” They could also happen very slowly over time, while citizens were apathetic and took their liberties for granted. 

In The Handmaid’s Tale, a group called The Son’s of Jacob overthrew the American government, removed the President and Congress, and suspended the U.S. Constitution. Women were forbidden to work, access money, own property, read, and write. The group also instituted man-made laws that perverted the Old Testament.  

Atwood was of the opinion that if any group sought to overthrow the American government – and I suppose win support without much rebellion – they would do so using religious "Christian"  fundamentalism; hence, she chose elements from 17th century Puritanism. 

Puritans contributed to early American history and self-government, but the strict religious sect came from England, 1620, and brought with them English law. However, while religious freedom was still on the hearts of the people, in 1775, the American Revolution was strongly about personal liberty. 

First, I personally do not believe Christian fundamentalism is true Christianity. A true believer has a personal, individual relationship with Christ. Anyone who follows Christ is accountable to Him alone, not to an organized religion or church. You do not become a Christian until you make a decision to follow Christ. Let us be sure it is true Christianity. 

Second, according to Pew, the number of Christian Americans decreases yearly; more people are not identifying with any religion, while there is a small and steady increase of those who claim to be Muslim. Our landscape is changing and is expected to look very different in 20-40 years. Look at Europe! That is the way of America.

Third, it is Christians who are consistently being ostracized from society because they cannot align themselves with this current culture. It is America’s Christian ideals that are being targeted and eradicated from society. It is Christians whose religious liberty is being challenged frequently, and in many cases, losing the battle. 

Finally, I will not say, “This cannot happen here,” because I agree with Atwood that we can lose our liberties, depending on which ones you mean; but I am more concerned about the changing landscape of America, especially with the influx of strict Islamic sects, whose ideology contradicts America’s basic liberties for all, especially women. 

By the way, it is becoming increasingly popular to hate America and offensive if you feel patriotic and grateful for this country. Americans seek its demise, encouraging division and its inevitable fall. In my opinion, America is certainly in a position to be overtaken, but it probably won’t be by a Christian fundamentalist group, hoping to reinstate America’s old Puritanical roots. Know what I mean?

Sabbath Eve by Alexander Johnston

THE CONTRADICTIONS OF GILEAD

Oh, this story is not anti-religion. Atwood said: “…it is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny.” Yes! Even Offred prayed to God and told Him that she knew this [regime] was not “mandated by a just and merciful God,” meaning the imposters who took over, imposing their man-made laws on the people, were not true Christians. Absolutely! That’s what I said.

Atwood understood, at least for Christianity’s sake, that people were capable of hijacking a religion. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, they twisted Scripture to legislate oppression. The Sons of Jacob could not be further from the Truth. They were liars. If anyone uses Scripture to advance himself or his ideology and never points to Christ, he is not a Christian and his agenda is not from God.

There are so many other contradictions used by the regime, and unfortunately, anyone who does not know the truth will be misinformed about real Christianity, although I am sure that was not Atwood’s concern. 

For one, Christianity does not condone sex slaves or handmaids for reproduction. Women’s bodies are the temple of the Living God, not to be used for another's selfish pleasure or agenda. That idea is not biblical, not even with the Old Testament. When Abraham’s wives used their maids for procreation, God was not pleased. See the conflict created between the two sisters and all of the brothers, not to mention the broken hearts of the maids? While God may use our sin for His good, He clearly instituted marriage to be between one man and one woman, for a reason. (Genesis 2:24) And Jesus reiterated that in the New Testament. (Matthew 19:4-6)

The hypocrisy of the regime of Gilead is deafening. The Commander took Offred to an underground community where only the elite of the officials escape to enjoy all of the forbidden sins outlawed for everyone else. When Offred asked why these places still existed, the Commander replied because “…everyone’s human.” Christians are commanded to turn away from temptation and hate what God hates and exhibit self-control. They cannot make excuses for weakness and call it “being human.” Ironically he said “everyone” is human…but, in that case, not everyone was treated human, right? Lots of hypocrisy!


Robert Duvall and Natasha Richardson meet privately

Another glaring contradiction was the lack of love. The commander asked Offred, “What did [the regime] overlook?” Offred replied, “Falling in love.” The commander argued against love because he said it did not work out, for men, who were turning against marriage and sex because they couldn’t feel anything anymore. The regime replaced “love” with arranged marriages, and the commander said it was a “return to nature.” 

But a true Christian knows that love is essential to relationships. Husbands are commanded to love their wives, and wives their husbands; parents their children, children their parents; Christians love their neighbors, and even love their enemies! But in Gilead, there is absolutely no love.

The Salvagings were not Christian. I do not know how else to say it. Something like public stoning was Old Testament Law; but Christ fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), so we no longer need to live that way. Even the American Founding was based on Judeo-Christian ideals and established more protection for criminals than for law-abiding citizens. Check out the American Bill of Rights! Clearly, Gilead rejected Christian justice. 

And the violently tearing apart of citizens with one's bare hands...that's just NOT Christian or Puritan. That's barbaric. 

Furthermore, the leaders of the regime obviously never understood Colossians 2:21-23: 
“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?  These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. 
Instead they placed burdens on the people with their useless man-made laws of morality.

NOW ABOUT ABORTION...



In her introduction, Atwood described the Aunts as the older women who retrained and indoctrinated the younger Handmaids into believing all of the lies of the regime. The author recounted the scene in the Hulu series, in which the Handmaids were encouraged to “slut-shame” a particular Handmaid who told her story about being gang raped at age fourteen. Atwood said it disturbed her because it was very real since women will “gang up on other women. Yes, they will accuse others to keep themselves off the hook. Yes, they will take positions of power over other women.” The author then added in the “Historical Notes” that Gilead is not only patriarchal in form but also matriarchal in content. Yes, and women can be equally harsh and tyrannical as men.

See, this is not only a female issue. This is human nature. Men do it, too, (like gang mentality). However, it also made me think of abortion. Have women not fiercely justified their ability and opportunity - a protected right - to kill their own offspring, half of which are future women? Are they not ganging up on other (unborn) women, accusing others (their offspring of inconveniencing them) to avoid responsibility, taking a position of power over their own defenseless unborn baby? Even Offred’s feminist-activist mother claimed, “A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women.” Maybe it is a stretch, but abortion instantly came to mind. 

Today when I read or hear The Handmaid’s Tale used as an example of what would happen if abortion were outlawed, that it is the equivalent of rape and forced childbirth, it makes my head spin. There is no connection because we are still free to choose to have sex with a man or not. No one is holding us down like they did Offred. And before you remind me of rape, let me remind you that most abortions are overwhelmingly for convenience and selfish interest. Less than 0.5% of abortions a year are because of rape, while 3-5% are for fetal abnormalities and health of the mother. The rest are for personal reasons. Also note, over 85% of women who use abortion are not married. 

Access to abortion does not equal freedom. It either breaks your heart or makes you bitter. And demanding free birth control also does not equal freedom. You still have to depend on government to provide your birth control so you can have sex with a guy without requiring him to be accountable. Look, if you are not in a position to have a baby, YOU DON'T HAVE TO HAVE SEX WITH THAT GUY! Even Offred said, 
No one dies from a lack of sex; it’s a lack of love, we die from.



SOME MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS

During Offred’s private visit with the Commander, which he initiated specifically for friendly intimacy, he discussed the benefits the regime now provided to women, such as protection from violent men or abandonment and an equal opportunity to have a husband through arranged marriages (for those permitted to marry). Women no longer needed cosmetic surgery to improve appearance to attract men. And women need not measure their worth by income or worry about leaving their children in the care of an unkind woman. Besides, mothers never received respect, and women turned away from “the whole business” anyway.
This way they’re protected, they can fulfill their biological destinies in peace. With full support and encouragement.
UGH. 

By the time I came to the rape scene in the story, I asked myself why the author had so much animosity that she could imagine something this horrific, even violent, using the F-word a few times to describe the act. It was truly gut wrenching to read her description. I could sense her anger. Then again, I remember, this has already happened, and it is happening still today, as I think of ISIS abducting young girls to sell and purchase as sex slaves. Different purpose, similar act.

 SHOULD YOU READ THIS, IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY?

Fans of dystopian books will embrace it. Readers who enjoy infuriating stories about victims and injustice will enjoy it, too. The writing style is quite interesting for this story; it does the job. And yes, the tale is almost completely believable, thanks to Atwood's pulling together all the corruptible and atrocious acts man has selfishly imposed on his fellow man and woman. It serves as a warning that this is possible...this can happen...anywhere...because it already has and is. Man is totally wicked and all nations are temporary. Even America.

P.S. I have NOT watched the HULU series of this story. I like the book, and I want to keep it that way.

8 comments:

  1. I seem to be the first to comment. I would never get through a book like this because I'm sick to death of false witnesses against Christianity. And however she wants to wrap it, that is exactly what Atwood is doing. She knows it is trendy and popular to attack Christianity and she uses her (probably excellent) writing skills to get on the best seller list.

    She has recycled a well worn parody of Christianity to an all too over eager audience that wants to believe in it in order to justify their rejection of Jesus Christ.

    Jesus said, "Remember, they hate you, because they hated me first."

    Your review of the book and your observation of the blatant hypocrisy of anyone who wants to decry oppression against women while touting the killing of the unborn is insane.

    The other hypocrisy is to defend Islam even when we know they are violently oppressive towards women, infidels and lifestyles that secular Americans embrace and take "pride" in.

    Your post might not be popular, but it is a bold and courageous post for that reason.

    Preach on, sister!

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    1. : ) Thanks, Sharon.

      As I was reading 1 Chronicles this morning, I remembered that all of the Sons of Jacob (except Joseph and Benjamin) did wickedness in the sight of the Lord. The Sons of Jacob are what this evil group of Fundamentalist who took over this part of the United States called themselves. Notice Joseph and Benjamin were the only two sons born of the woman Jacob loved and wanted to marry. Such chaos was created when other women were brought into their union. No, this set up is not of God, and the "Sons of Jacob" (of the OT) lived in wickedness and idolatry, in Gilead (of the Bible), and God caused them all to be taken into captivity!!! So anyone who does not know Bible history won't know that it was for our learning when God's people ended up in bondage b/c they turned away from Him. So, how stupid for so-called Christians to take the name of OT people who ended up in bondage. The irony!

      It is easy to mock Christianity bc REAL Christins do not have a history of rising up and threatening or killing artists, actors, musicians, authors, and other citizens for their ignorance and hatred. But they wouldn't mock Islam bc THEY KNOW ITS HiSTORY! It is playing out before our eyes!

      Atwood could have easily used Islam bc she saw the results of the Islamic Revolution, in 1979. And those WOMEN ESPECIALLY are stil suffering under the Islamic Regime. Theirs is a Handmaid's Tale come true every day. The Islamic Regime thought they could institute a moral utopia! All they have done is caused women so much sorrow and oppression!

      Yeah, I don't know what it is with the Puritan obsession. Puritanism is OUT. No one lives like that anymore. And people who use Scripture to run their household authoritatively are misusing Scripture. Christianity is liberating and women are MOST free when they follow Christ and marry a man who is truly submissive to Him alone.

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    2. I don't recall the first time I saw women dressed as Attwood's Handmaid's, but I do recall thinking these women have no idea what they are protesting for. The are protesting for the right to evolve into infertile women. So typical of today's society to pick the one thing that fits their agenda and focus on that.
      I just ordered the book, hopefully it has not been revised to point as a warning about Trump.

      I watched the series and it as a warning of how our immorality, freedom to abort our unborn children and have consensual sex with no consequence will lead us to a loss of fertility and a sense hopelessness.

      You are absolutely correct, we will never be overtaken by a Christian group, Christians are the only religion is openly acceptable to discriminate against.

      It is so sad what Americans cling to.

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    3. Unknown...I don't know if you'll come back to your comment, but I'm curious...are you saying that you watched the series, and it does present promiscuous sex and rampant abortion as the cause for loss of fertility? Well, that is the same argument in the book.

      Certainly the book has not been edited to mark this current Administration. It doesn't have to be because I think enough people have imagined and interpreted it as reality. And they see evil as good and good as evil.

      Well, I'm glad you are going to read it for yourself. Come back and let me know what you thought!

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  2. Wonderful review. As a christian, I think your review was very well written, not because I dumbly agree, but because I also see those christian beliefs and values that the book overlooks. However, as a dystopia, and from a dystopia genre fan, I do think the book is an accomplishment worthy of the attention that it has received. I also have not and don't intend to watch the Hulu series.

    I agree with you that it's not true christian beliefs, but any dogmatism based on anything, (in this case a faction of christianity gone totally bonkers), which can and does cause a LOT of harm. And that has happened, is happening, and will happen in any society that brings up any religion as the basis for its government in a fundamentalist approach. Or also has happened and will keep happening in small sectors of society, in cults.

    Just two days ago, I bought her other title, The Blind Assassin. I plan to read it, but I need to be at the right time, and make some space in my reading. Maybe for the fall/winter.

    As for 'read it' or not, I take it as a dystopian book worth reading, -I like being informed of what children read in schools, or are asked to read, etc. But if one passes, oh, well, LOL, it's a book, right? LOL. One more fuel propeller in the hands of the ones who like picking up fights, or an interesting exercise in literature in the hands of the reader. One of the reasons why I love dystopia is because it renders itself to lots of good conversations.

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    1. Thanks, Silvia,

      Dystopian is on of my favorite genres, too. It is an extremely difficult genre to write, as Atwood knew well. I agree...she did an excellent job. That's why I added THMT to my personal canon. I have read some awful dystopian, but this one is definitely up there with 1984, Brave New World, Hunger Games, and Animal Farm.

      Atwood wrote a lot! I have not read Blind Assassin. Have you read anything else by Atwood? I would like to read The Penelopiad.

      P.S. I'm going to check out your blog right now.
      P.S.S. I see you are listed in Texas. (My husband and I want to escape California in the next year or two and move to Texas. We're waiting for him to finish school next fall.)

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  3. And I think I've seen your posts around, I finally added your blog to my wordpress reader, which notifies me of new post from the blogs I follow, -now yours too.

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  4. This is such a great review and I love that you caught the point of how this book and many other books and media try to paint Christianity as some sort of evil to society while at the same time turning a blind eye to Islam that literally commits the same horrors that they describe and worse.

    Dont bother watching the TV show, its a cringe fest and is even more Anti-Christian. What is up with that? is being objective so tough? Anyone who looks at Christianity knows that it is not the religion that is going to create a Handmaiden's tale sort of world because it already exists in all countries where Islam is the religion. But no! not a word there because for some reason, one is not allowed to point this out or you will get called a Nazi or a racist or something terrible. The hypocrisy is stunning and I believe that Atwood knew exactly what she was doing when writing this book.

    Great review, you earned a new reader!

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