Personal Review of "The Handmaid's Tale"
25. Mai '20
Do research on how to write a personal review of a novel. Write your personal review of 'The Handmaid's Tale' (at least 200 words).
Philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt once asserted: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” While this statement was already made in 1951, it turns out to be frighteningly relevant in modern times. Against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s preference for so-called “alternative facts” and a social divide in which the societal actors seem unable even to agree on liberal democracy with humane values as a basic consensus, Margret Atwood’s 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” may present the dystopian model of society in which Arendt's thesis comes to a head.
The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of Offred, whose real name is withheld from the reader throughout the story. Offred lives in the Republic of Gilead, an authoritarian and repressive theocracy on the former territory of the USA, which emerged after a fundamentalist religious revolution. Due to devastating environmental pollution most of the inhabitants have become sterile; the few still fertile women, among them Offred, have to breed and serve as handmaids. The novel portrays Offred's everyday life between powerlessness and resistance, neglect and the desire to be loved and the constant longing for the old, better times. Its greatest strength is without question its unprecedented topicality: The Handmaid’s Tale draws an unabashed picture of a morally perverted society, in which dissidents and minorities are politically persecuted and all emancipatory efforts are rolled-back. Gilead is a society without humanity, in which even any interpersonal warmth is banished due to fundamentalist ideology. One of the strongest scenes of the novel, which takes place in the brothel Jezebel’s, demonstrates the hypocrisy of the regime when even the political elite indulges their human urges. As this chapter shows, this society is ideologically not really supported by anyone but is nevertheless sustained by everyone because of the moral aimlessness described by Arendt. Thus, the novel inevitably raises the question: Is this dystopia perhaps a lot closer to our post-factual age than we always thought?
The story itself lives primarily through its dense atmosphere, which is transported by the rich and diverse language. Atwood's metaphors are precise and to the point, without being kitschy or too cryptic. However, especially readers who are not native English speakers may have problems deciphering the linguistic images and finding their way within the complex structure with many retrospectives. Atwood dispenses with a classic arc of suspense, which gives the events a touch of authenticity, but at the same time impairs the fun of reading. The reader can identify wonderfully with the main character Offred, but on the other hand, one is also quickly annoyed by the constant passivity of the protagonist, who just happens to stumble through the events of the story. The ending is open and unconventional; against the backdrop of the many textual blanks it almost seems as if Atwood had taken another quote from Arendt to heart: “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” This depth of content makes The Handmaid’s Tale one of the most important books of our time, but certainly not an easy read though.