Book: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood


Handmaid's Tale Cover“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”

Margaret Atwood’s disquieting almost-sci fi opus about a reproductive dystopia that is, in fact, not hypothetical at all.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, a ruthless theocratic regime enslaves women for domestic labor–including the all-important job of bearing children for the ruling class.

Reader Guide

Atwood’s 1985 thriller about the horrors of religious patriarchy remains ever-contemporary, mainly because it’s not really speculative fiction at all.

In her introduction for the 2019 edition, Atwood explains her standards when writing it: She’d employ no technology that did not already exist, and portray no policies that were not already in place somewhere in the world or had not been historically.

The enduring lesson of the book is that theocracy is never hypothetical in America; it’s happening right now, all around us, incrementally, like a slow infection. “We live in the Handmaid’s Tale” Moira Weigel wrote in the New Yorker in 2017 (referencing the hit TV show recently adapted from the book)–and she’s right. The world of the book is the real world, merely with certain obstacles removed for some parties. 


Given the nature of the story and setting, The Handmaid’s Tale does indeed contain multiple depictions of rape, up to and including passive acceptance of an essentially rape-based society, as well as constant institutional imprisonment for the purposes of abuse.