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The Handmaid's Tale - Printable Version

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The Handmaid's Tale - Dr. Jezebel - 06-07-2017

Full disclosure: I've not read the book, and I'm not far into the TV series. 

This piece was written by a former Fundy about the novel, and I'm curious if other former Fundies, especially women, draw similar conclusions. 


RE: The Handmaid's Tale - Workin' Mama - 06-08-2017

I've not read the book or seen the TV series; this is the first time I've ever heard of it. But I found the article really fascinating.

It does not mirror my own upbringing, but it does reflect my observations of a few fundy families I've met who were really on the fringe.

One thing that I found really interesting was what the author says about political and cultural trends -- she seems to fear that the far right is getting stronger and getting more extreme. I would agree. I think both the far right and the far left are getting more extreme. I've seen the drift within my lifetime, and I'm not very old. It seems there's no room for moderation anymore. No room for the two sides to really come together and have a meaningful discussion in which both truly listen to each other. Or maybe the extremists are just the ones getting all the press (as well as all the power within their own parties).

I do believe that some far right groups are purposely having large numbers of children for political reasons -- so that they can swing the vote in the next generation. In fact, I once heard this concept actively promoted by a guest preacher (although his approach was not as extreme as that of the Quiverfull movement).

I also believe that so-called complementarianism and religious patriarchy are growing, and they are spreading their ugly tentacles into mainstream evangelicalism and mainstream protestantism, which I find very concerning. It seems that when I was a child, there were occasional snide remarks about "feminism" in church circles; there were sexist jokes about women told from the pulpit, and women were not allowed to have prominent leadership positions in the church. But there was not the constant harangueing about gender roles and "male leadership" that I've seen in recent years. At least that's been my experience. Maybe I'm just biased because of the pattern of denominational changes that my family and I went through during my lifetime.

RE: The Handmaid's Tale - captain_solo - 06-09-2017

I haven't watched the series, but I have read the book.  

Atwood's speculative fiction isn't good because it follows an ideological template, it's good because it deals with scarcity in a novel way.   All speculative dystopian fiction does this, and it's why so much of the young adult dystopian material out there is crap.   Its just book publishers bandwagon jumping to try to match the success of say, the Hunger Games and failing because doing this type of thing right is hard. You have to be smart with the details of the dystopian world, not just able to write awkward social scenes between young characters with too many hormones and plop stupid interactions that could be from a fundy Amish Porn novel into a supposedly dystopian world where aliens, or communists, or fundy armies attacked a small town in Iowa with biological weapons.

Atwood's core scarcity is around women who are physically capable of bringing to term genetically viable offspring.  The economic/human survival forces which produce the strange social norms and the somewhat vaguely familiar feminist themes surrounding them are actually not all that similar to what we see today because our problem tends to be the opposite.  There is not enough scarcity.  Eugenics, feminism, patriarchy, social mores around the protection/veneration of women as birth mothers, all take on very interesting and unreal aspects when placed in a society which will supposedly collapse if procreation isn't managed ruthlessly and what that would look like combined with christian fundamentalist totalitarianism, something that is even more unbelievable than the more mundane aspects of the setting.  I can't envision any realistic scenario where you could get enough fundamentalists to agree with each other to the point that they could impact society on a large scale let alone set up a coherent one if they did take out the current crop of miscreants.   In fact I see Atwood hit the inevitable class hierarchies that arise out of totalitarian regimes more on the nose both for the men and women in the novel than the actual male/female aspects of the book. She goes out of her way to depict the way many women participate in the subjugation of other women directly in a way which to me made it much more realistic (and is probably the closest connection to the quiverfull movement's dark underbelly as per the article)

I really like Atwood's book because of what it is, and bothers me that it's being made into some kind of cautionary tale about Trump and/or Pence.  This is not the only article that has taken that approach and I find it tenuous and silly.

I guess when all you have is a hammer...

RE: The Handmaid's Tale - Dr. Jezebel - 06-09-2017

Quote:She goes out of her way to depict the way many women participate in the subjugation of other women directly in a way which to me made it much more realistic (and is probably the closest connection to the quiverfull movement's dark underbelly as per the article)

This is one of the things I find most unsettling, because I've definitely experienced this aspect in fundamentalism.

RE: The Handmaid's Tale - pastor's wife - 09-05-2017

I just finished reading the book. I read it with pen in hand since I'm going to a book club, noticing motifs and metaphors and scribbling notes in the margins. (I'm sure I'm going to thoroughly scare all the other women at the book club. I'll try to restrain myself.)

My copy has a 2017 intro from Atwood which helped me deal with the discomfort of what could have, for me, come across as a liberal attack on conservative values. There is definitely some of that, but, as she said in the intro, the book is primarily about power, and, if you were to try to establish a totalitarian regime in the USA, it probably would be based on Christian imagery/beliefs because that still represents a majority in America. I also noticed that among those fighting back against Gilead were Baptists, Catholics, and Quakers.

SOOOOOO much I could say about this book! It was quiet and slow in many ways, reflecting her own existence, but it was so interesting to contemplate how life had changed so swiftly and so horribly. It was claustrophobic really because there seemed to be no escape. There were lots of flashbacks to her prior life, some just showing the normality that is now gone, others slowly revealing part of how she got where she was.

I thought it was masterly how she chose to portray the Commander and his wife. What they were doing was monstrous but they were not one-dimensional monsters. They were seen as people, complex, flawed, and also trapped, but in a different way.

Some of the primary images were, of course, the color red, but also 1) mirrors/ shadows/insubstantiality, 2) people being dehumanized, especially women, and being described as inanimate objects or animals, 3) looking/being seen/not being seen, 4) hands/holding/being held, and of course, 5) power.

A couple quotes I especially liked were these:

"But who can remember pain, one it's over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see."

"I intend to get out of here. It can't last forever. Others have thought such things, in bad times before this, and they were always right, they did get out one way or another, and it didn't last forever. Although for them it may have lasted all the forever they had." [poignant]

"You don't get hanged only for being a Jew though. You get hanged for being a noisy Jew." [It's about power. The regime removes those who rock the boat.]

"At the Center, temptation was anything much more than eating and sleeping." [turning almost everything into a sin, into something forbidden]

[This was about one of the women running the Center where the Handmaids were trained.] "A thing is valued, she says, only if it is rare and hard to get. We want you to be valued, girls. She is rich in pauses, which she savors in her mouth. Think of yourselves as pearls. We, sitting in our rows, eyes down, we make her salivate morally. We are hers to define, we must suffer her adjectives." [Making her salivate morally. Reminded me of certain people in the IFB.]

I could say MUCH more but I'll leave it here for now. Really amazing book.

RE: The Handmaid's Tale - James33 - 09-08-2017

This is a required book in High School.

RE: The Handmaid's Tale - pastor's wife - 09-08-2017

(09-08-2017, 12:02 PM)James33 Wrote: This is a required book in High School.

I wouldn't have wanted to read it in high school.  I was too naive and sheltered to be in any way prepared to read this book.

RE: The Handmaid's Tale - James33 - 09-11-2017

(09-08-2017, 04:30 PM)pastor Wrote:
(09-08-2017, 12:02 PM)James33 Wrote: This is a required book in High School.

I wouldn't have wanted to read it in high school.  I was too naive and sheltered to be in any way prepared to read this book.

I honestly don't know why we had to read this in High School.

RE: The Handmaid's Tale - captain_solo - 10-09-2017

So, if I put away my "loves to read just about any sci-fi there is" hat and put on a more pointy "literary analysis" hat...

In this interview, Orson Scott Card describes Atwood's book as "clumsy" and "a textbook example of the arrogance of trying to write in a genre you don’t understand"


I think this sort of hits on the issue I had with the book overall. It was significant only because the hook was clever, it pulled in themes that resonate with the culture, and it was identifiable for people from certain types of authoritarian sub-cultures, but in general it wasn't good sci-fi.   I really enjoyed the beginning of the book because it was far above the writing quality and the ideas of most of the young adult distopian fiction out there (a genre that has been innundated by criminally mediocre also-rans) but it really left me feeling like it was unfinished.  Not cleverly unfinished like a Philip K. Dick novel, but just sort of petered out at the end and left the story sort of laying there.   

It also didn't have a very well-developed world-building aspect, which is a part of great sci-fi (except where purposefully and conspicuously absent - which is what I thought was happening at the beginning of the book) 

So, while I thought the content and the core idea of the book was thought-provoking, I felt like it was a less than complete effort.  As a general rule, and Card is one of the masters of this, sci-fi should deliver philosophical and cultural disruption so subtly through a thoroughly fictional setting that the reader's prejudices and assumptions are down before they realize what has happened.  The moral of the story can't be in your face, or it just comes off as being blatant political activism covered by a thin veneer of story to make it palatable (Think "Atlas Shrugged") And it has to hide in a story so carefully fictionalized that it's startling when you realize what the point is.  If you want to be heavy handed with the ideology thats fine, you just have to be incredibly clever with the setting (Animal Farm comes to mind as a better effort at this than Rand's gigantic and plodding novel)   

While The Handmaid's Tale gets about 75% there in my estimation, it fails to deliver that eye opening moment where you realize that what you have just read turns a significant underlying assumption about the world you have been carrying on its head (think about the moment in the Matrix when you understand what it is) and your brain begins rapidly connecting the change in your worldview to many beliefs/assumptions/situations in your real world consciousness.   At times it feels too much like an open assault on a real world belief system and causes you to wonder about the author's agenda - in fact this is the core of the problem, you should never wonder about that until after that moment of epiphany.    The author says she was not attempting to write some kind of allegory of feminism, and that seems plausible because she certainly could have been even more direct in her assault and actually misses some clever opportunities to take the metaphors even further, but the novel's overall voice is just a hair to far in that direction to compete with some of the more masterful writers in the genre who sneak past your objections and then overturn everything in your well-ordered brain.  

It's one of those books that I wanted to like much more than I actually liked.   My kids read it in school and largely responded the same way.   They responded more favorably to books like Anthem by Ayn Rand and The Giver by Lois Lowry, and even more strongly negative to Huxley's Brave New World.