Book a week Review # 5 The Handmaid’s Tale

By one-fourth the novel, my mind was swept through doubts. The Handmaid’s Tale, until then had been rich with flowing prose that evoked life-like imagery. But I wasn’t getting a hang of the story. I wanted to drop it for another one. Somehow, it seemed ‘not right.’ But I still continued reading it. Why? I can’t pinpoint the reason.

Maybe it was due to the new way in which the novel was penned.

The narration is unorthodox. The story unfolding through the thoughts of the narrator (she’s called a handmaid.) Whatever she sees, smells, reads (no, cut that off, she is not allowed to read) is there for you to experience. Like looking into a kaleidoscope you see the life the way she experiences. Her most intimate thoughts, deepest of desires, her secrets, her fears. All the observations, her feelings unfolding one by one as she experiences them. It’s quite an experience.

But I was still getting that feeling that something is not right. And however impressed I was with the imagery, I was still getting a feeling of going nowhere. I felt struck in the world of her mind. And I didn’t even know whether that world was real or one imagined by her. I got the answer soon.

At around middle of the book I realize that I’m supposed to feel like this. The world of the narrator itself is ‘not right.’

On the surface the world looks like the world we currently inhabit. The people going about their lives. The cars on the road. The shops in the arcade. Everything looks normal. But there is an eerie sense in them. A world hung in a dangerous balance. World waiting to fall apart.

There is more than one kind of freedom, says Aunt Lydia to the narrator. “Freedom to and Freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.

It was then you start getting sense of this world. It is the world where there is no ‘freedom to,’ at all.

Like the hands of a clock, every person covers a defined path, performing a defined role. It’s a world where human beings are reduced to mechanical contraption. Where you wake up and follow a defined routine. Follow rules that have been written for you, until you sleep and wake up to repeat the process, day after day.

In this world every person has a defined role in the society.

The narrator is a Handmaid. And Handmaid’s have an important role in this society. They are the few ones left with the ability to procreate. But instead of worshiping these goddess of ‘life’ they are reduced to a vessel which is passed around to fulfil the most ultimate thirst of our species — to produce life.

They are rotated among the houses of the privileges as a tool of procreation. A vessel in which the seed of life is sowed in them, and they are nurtured until that seed is converted to a life. Then they are send to another place. The same seed to life process being repeated. And it goes on until they can do it, sustain this passing around, after which they are discarded, like the spent butt of a cigarette.

They have no freedom. They can’t read or write. Nor they can walk around as leisure. Smoking and drinking is banned for them. They walk the path delineated for them, buy the things from a list given to them.

The book never follows a structure. But that’s the best part of the book. Through the most careless of the observations of narrator we glimpse on crucial aspect of this world. Through the continuous stream of thoughts you come to experience a world that is nightmarish, absolute and cruel. The world where every person is reduced to an object.

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Originally published at Tidbits.