The Handmaid's Tale

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The Handmaid's Tale

Handmaid's Tale, The.jpg

Hardcover - USA - 1st edition.

Author Margaret Atwood
Published 1985-??-??
Type Fiction
Genre Drama
Themes Dystopia, Politics
Age Group Adult

The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood first published in 1985 in Canada, then the USA in 1986. The book is often classified as science fiction, but it isn't. The stark criticism of Christianity often leads to this book being challenged in public libraries.

The book describes a future where women are no longer considered people. The population of America is on a rapid decline because of war, pollution, and drug-resistant STIs. To combat these problems, the government becomes a totalitarian theocracy and strips women of their human rights, and uses an old testament as a guide for a new society. Anyone who goes against their interpretation of the bible like doctors, scientists, homosexuals, non-Christians, and even liberal Christians are either deported, executed, or sent to clean up radioactive wastelands, even if they committed their "crimes" before the theocracy took power. All married couples who weren't married in a Conservative Christian manner are nullified (this includes the subsequent marriages of any divorcees) and any children conceived in those nullified marriages are taken away to be raised by "proper" Christians. Any woman whose marriage was eliminated in this way, and can still bear children, is given to well-off men as "handmaids" and raped for breeding purposes. Elderly women are used to help raise these children, or simply sent away to die.


Read?Audiobook read by Betty Harris.

I heard about this book as being high-up in a list of the best science fiction, and, since it had a female author, I was more inclined to read it to add to the diversity of my understanding of the genre. I'm glad I did, because, not only did I enjoy the book, but I think the book is a very important to teaching people about the dangers of religious authoritarianism.




— This section contains spoilers! —


  • I enjoyed reading about how Serena Joy, who fought so hard to keep women in the home, finally got her way, and became entirely miserable.
  • The phrase, "nolite te bastardes carborundorum," will become a new mantra of mine.
  • Despite the society's piety, it is just like any other fascist theocracy where the wealthy believe laws are necessary to keep the rabble in line, but don't apply to proper gentlemen.
  • There is wisdom in how the Christian majority first kicks out non-Christians. Then, Christians who aren't Christian enough (Quakers, Jesuits, etc.), and finally, everyone who isn't the correct brand of Christian (Catholic, Baptists, etc.).
  • While I found the order of the stories a little hard to follow at first, near the end, I appreciated the disjointedness which kept secrets from the reader about Luke, the woman's daughter, etc.
  • The various ways the heroine would lie in her stories (about her first sexual encounter with Nick), were an interesting touch.
  • The Japanese tourists finding the US so quaint and backward kind of mirrors how Americans currently find Afghanistan (even though Afghanistan was quite liberated in the 1970s).
  • I loved the character Moira. Especially her hatred and fervor, and was saddened to hear how the bastards ground her down.


  • I was a little bored at times with some of the descriptions. I wish the author had come up with more interesting ways to deal with them.
  • I was a little annoyed with the ending being so abrupt, but I appreciated the afterward which showed the Republic of Gilead as now being nothing but a historic footnote.
  • I found the speed at which the USA descended into a totalitarian theocracy a little too rapid to be believable (at least I hope!).


  • Nothing.


Strong female character?Pass
Bechdel test?Pass
Strong person of color character?Unknown
Queer character?Pass


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