Analysis of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
This novel is an account of the near future; a dystopia, where
pollution and radiation has rendered countless women sterile, and the
birth rates of North America are dangerously declining. A puritan
theocracy now controls the former United States called the Republic of
Gilead and Handmaids are recruited to repopulate the state. This novel
contains Atwood’s strong sense of social awareness, as seen in the use
of satire to comment on different social conditions in the novel. The
Handmaid’s Tale is a warning to young women of the 'post-feminist'
1980s and after, who began taking for granted the rights that had been
secured for women by the women before them.
The environmental danger of pollution and radiation run off from power
plants is commented on in the novel. Atwood is voicing her concerns
about the destruction of the environment here, and warns us of the
possibilities if the destruction continues in our world. Her view is
extreme of course, made to shock people into thinking about the
potential danger. In the novel, pollution and radiation had
overwhelmed the population causing sterility in both men and women.
Babies were often born deformed, (these were called 'Unbabies') or
died during pregnancy or shortly after birth. At one point in the
novel, a funeral is described by the main character Offered, she said
"the first one is bereaved, the mother; she carries a small black jar.
From the size of the jar you can tell how old it was when it
foundered, inside her, flowed to its death. Two or three months, too
early to tell whether or not it was an Unbaby"(Atwood, 55). The
infertile women, rebels and feminists were sent to the 'colonies' to
clean toxic waste, where of course they die of either disease or
radiation. Atwood incorporated the environmental disaster into her
novel as a warning, her point being that it could happen, and if it
did, here is what might happen; mankind could go to an extreme,
religious, totalitarian state: the Republic of Gilead.