Offred, one of the main characters in the book, leads us through the story, remembering her past before the inception of Gilead. She takes us through memories of when she had a child and husband and how she slowly witnessed America turn into the theocracy that it has become. Offred
was a normal everyday woman with a family and a normal life; however, when the Religious Rights came into practice she found herself losing all rights she had. She quickly went from being able to live an everyday life to being needed only for reproduction and meaning nothing more. In the beginning of the book we are simply given a description of where she and some other women like her are, the rooms they are in, the way they have to communicate secretly with each other. For a science fiction story it does have a slow pace, which some readers may not enjoy, though it all falls into place later on.
From the moment I read the first chapter of The Handmaid’s Tale I immediately wanted to read more. By giving a shocking yet realistic view into the way society could be able to treat women in the future, it drew me in as a reader. The shocking contrast in only the first few pages of women being treated so lowly by men yet also other women having authority over low class women left me not wanting to put the book down. At the start we learn the women’s names and also that they have strange other names, such as Offred, Offwarren and Offglen. At first we are not aware of the meaning of this, however it is later revealed these are names of the higher class males they belong to and it is ‘Of Fred’. This is a shocking idea, especially when we realise it is actually fairly similar to the way we take a man’s name in this society when we get married.
Throughout the book, especially the beginning, Atwood aims to write in a way that constantly keeps us on edge as a reader and constantly questioning where the story is going. She doesn’t tell us much about what’s happened to the girls, what’s happened/happening to them and why they are so afraid. She often answers her questions with questions. Although this may be a factor that readers may not enjoy, as they may prefer to know exactly what she was intending when she wrote it, for me this was part of the reason I wanted to read on as I was always left wondering what happens next. You are constantly left with an open mind when reading this book and nothing is ever answered and set out straight for you. I enjoy this as a reader as it allows my imagination to run with the story.
While this may not be the typical science fiction story that many people would expect, with its slow pace and woman-centred narrative, it is certainly a pleasant surprise. The contrast between what we expect and what we receive is the factor that made me most enjoy the book.