Jennifer Helinek at Open Letters Monthly:
Forgive people for renewing their obsession with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 feminist dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. Given the release of a special edition audiobook at the beginning of April, a Hulu TV adaptation premiering at the end of April, and the book’s anticipation of Trump-era surrealism, a glut of Handmaid’s Tale articles has been inevitable. The book’s narrator, Offred, tells the story of the first generation of a society called Gilead, built from the ashes of the state once known as America. In Gilead, absolute political, economic, and social misogyny becomes the law of the land, and each woman is given a specific role – housemaid, wife, or breeder. Like all breeders (called “handmaids”), Offred has been renamed for her owner; she now belongs to a powerful man named Fred (but whom the book refers to simply as “the Commander”), and her job is to provide the Commander and his barren wife with a baby.
Offred leads a regimented, tedious existence that barely distracts her from the bittersweet, tormenting influence of memory. She reflects on how Christian extremists massacred the president and Congress, froze women’s bank accounts, and outlawed female employment before completely remolding society. Her thoughts on the transition process offer some of the book’s most prescient lines, like, “They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time,” and, “The roadblocks began to appear, and Identipassses. Everyone approved of that, since it was obvious you couldn’t be too careful.”