The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Dissecting the Feminist Dystopia

‘If I wanted to say just one thing to one person, I would write a letter.’ 1

- Margaret Atwood

Given the feminist reputation of The Handmaid’s Tale – it has been called a “feminist dystopia”1 – it is convenient to make the facile assumption that the novel issues its warnings of political apathy exclusively to a female audience. While this argument is seemingly unsophisticated, it is not without foundation. Indeed, many of the novel’s female characters, including the narrator herself, are accused of political apathy, and it is the women of Gilead that are most impacted by its totalitarianism. However, this is an overly simplistic view of Atwood’s social commentary, as she extends her message to all people to avoid succumbing to a world such as the one she describes: the men too are left unsatisfied by the regime, while some women preside over others, demonstrating that the author’s message is not a typically feminist one; at the same time, it is clear, as Coral Ann Howells argues2, that Atwood’s sympathies lie primarily with the handmaids. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that The Handmaid’s Tale offers warnings about issues other than totalitarianism, making comment, for example, upon the rise of religious fundamentalism...

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