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Monday, October 7, 2019

The Handmaid's Tale (Science Fiction)

by Margaret Atwood 

Publisher: Anchor Books (March 16, 1998) 

Softcover, 311 pages

Amazon Listing 

"I lie down on the braided rug. You can always practice, said Aunt Lydia. Several sessions a day, fitted into your daily routine. Arms at the side, knees bent, lift the pelvis l, roll the backbone down. Tuck. Again. Breathe in to the count of five, hold, expel. We do that in what used to be the Domestic Science room, cleared now of seeing machines and washer-dryers; in unison, lying on little Japanese mats, a tape playing, Les Sylphides. That's what I hear now in my head, as I lift, tilt, breathe. Behind my closed eyes thin white dancers flit gracefully among the trees, their wings fluttering like the wings of held birds."
This is the classic, and most famous, book by Margaret Atwood about a reformed society who is taken over by a massive decline in the planet's birth rate. A fundamental religious faction takes over and institutes a new "handmaid" program, whereby fertile women were taken in as substitutes for their infertile wives.
The handmaid substitution comes from the Book of Genesis where Rachel, being too old to bear children, told her husband, Jacob, to use her younger handmaid, Bilhah, as a surrogate for bearing children. The specific denomination is not named here in the new country of Gilead, and seems to be a new one popped up from Fundamentalist roots.
Author Margaret Atwood

The name of the country, formerly the US of A., called Gilead is based on Biblical precedent as well. The Land of Gilead, which loosely translated means "hill of testimony" and may be a rocky region located in Jordan. The book of Judges claims that the area comprises thirty towns. This represents a return by the rulers of this new land to the traditional aspects of religion, based purely off the Old Testament. In fact, Heyzeus is not mentioned at all and possibly could be expunged from the religion.
Of course, in this case the real purpose of religious restrictions is an exercise in power. None of the upper echelons of Gilead seem to really believe in its laws. The Commander goes openly to a brothel for the elites. The wife, Serena Joy, openly tells the Handmaid to have sex with the assistant, Nick, in order to get pregnant.
Poster for the 1990s film based on the book.

The bizarre exposition at the end of the novel, explains this was the beginnings of Gilead society, stating that there was a middle and late period as well. Thus the brutality we see at the beginning of a society, eventually stabilized, then fell into disarray with a relaxation of the rules. Similar to the Soviet Union.
Atwood had written that there was nothing new in her book. That at some point in history every element of Gilead society was represented in some country at some point in time.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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