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Old 12-20-2016, 09:44 AM   #1
WT Sharpe
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Book Club December 2016 Discussion: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the December 2016 MobileRead Book Club selection, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. What did you think?
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Old 12-20-2016, 09:51 AM   #2
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Forgive me for being a tad late posting the discussion. It was a brainnus interruptus. My pc is disconnected and I took so painstakingly long composing the vote thread on an iPad that I completely forgot that I have two tasks to complete on the 20th, not just one.
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Old 12-20-2016, 01:24 PM   #3
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Forgive me for being a tad late posting the discussion. It was a brainnus interruptus. My pc is disconnected and I took so painstakingly long composing the vote thread on an iPad that I completely forgot that I have two tasks to complete on the 20th, not just one.
No worries. We've all been there at one point or another.
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Old 12-20-2016, 03:15 PM   #4
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I read this when it came out, so it's been 30 years.

IIRC, it was inspired by the Iranian Revolution and subsequent subjection of women in the Islamic republic that followed the deposal of the Shah. Couldn't happen here, though. Right?

Ahem. It will be impossible to discuss this without reference to our current political situation. It seems scarily and eerily plausible.

It didn't quite live up to my memory of it. In part, that's because I couldn't experience again the growing horror of the gradual reveal of the handmaids' lives and function. And there's that pesky problem for a futuristic book where the technology didn't keep pace with actuality. Keeping tabs on the handmaids would have been much easier than pairing them with another as nark, among other issues. The date points such as magazines from the 70s, unfortunately, put this rather in the past than the future.

It's still a great read. I did have some issues and there were a couple of things I hated, but I'll get to those.
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Old 12-21-2016, 07:01 AM   #5
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I was reading The Handmaid's Tale while studying, working in a Civics class, and dealing with the outcome of the elections. I wish I had highlighted the phrase(s) at the time, but something Offred said made me think of Trump, which made me think of my course readings and caused me to shiver.

This was my reaction, about a quarter of the way into the story:

Quote:
"The fact that I am reading this now is oddly significant, as I've just completed the WWII section in my World History class. Propaganda, "Otherness", build a camp. Propaganda is what my students are studying right now in their Civics classes. I watch as they try to learn the various faces of the Big Lies. Propaganda like that used by our now President-Elect. "Otherness", Build a wall."
I don't think Trump is the second coming of Hitler; honestly, he's not that charismatic, but I do think that he wouldn't be above trying.

As for the story itself, I felt intrigued. I wanted to know all of its secrets. The ending was an emotional letdown, even though it did not detract from the overall story. I am not sure, however, that I want to see the movie. I haven't decided as yet.
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Old 12-21-2016, 11:41 AM   #6
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I abandoned this about 1/3rd of the way into it. Honestly, I just don't need any more distopia in my reading, there's enough in real life. I thought the book was very well written, and it certainly was effective at making its point, but now is not the time for me to read this. I'm going back to reading nothing but fluff for the foreseeable future.
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Old 12-21-2016, 12:46 PM   #7
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Ahem. It will be impossible to discuss this without reference to our current political situation. It seems scarily and eerily plausible.
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I was reading The Handmaid's Tale while studying, working in a Civics class, and dealing with the outcome of the elections. I wish I had highlighted the phrase(s) at the time, but something Offred said made me think of Trump, which made me think of my course readings and caused me to shiver.

This was my reaction, about a quarter of the way into the story:



I don't think Trump is the second coming of Hitler; honestly, he's not that charismatic, but I do think that he wouldn't be above trying.

As for the story itself, I felt intrigued. I wanted to know all of its secrets. The ending was an emotional letdown, even though it did not detract from the overall story. I am not sure, however, that I want to see the movie. I haven't decided as yet.

I hear you on that. So much so that I'm leery of commenting for saying something inappropriate outside the P&R forum.

I not so long ago read this again. The previous time was way back when it was first published. Probably age catching up with me, but the ending seemed to be different than what I recalled. The previous remembered was much bloodier yet optimistic than the actual.
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Old 12-22-2016, 08:36 AM   #8
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I hear you on that. So much so that I'm leery of commenting for saying something inappropriate outside the P&R forum.

I not so long ago read this again. The previous time was way back when it was first published. Probably age catching up with me, but the ending seemed to be different than what I recalled. The previous remembered was much bloodier yet optimistic than the actual.
I didn't remember the epilogue either; perhaps I supressed the memory because I thought it was terrible. It significantly undermined the impact of the book.

I'm not saying all epilogues are bad, but I view them with suspicion. Too often, they're a result of a failure of the author to get everything she wanted in the body of her text or her desire to control an outcome outside the story at hand. In this case, both.

It doesn't matter to the story how the Republic of Gilead came about. Learning of an assassination after the fact adds nothing. It only matters that the premise is reasonably plausible. Info dumps at the end of a story are even more leaden than at the beginning.

It also doesn'tt matter what happens after the end of the narrative or how the narrative came about. Perhaps it was a memoir of sorts, as it was presented. But perhaps it was an interrogation. Why not leave it open-ended? It would have been far creepier and menacing. But instead, cassette tapes, footlocker, old tech, blah blah blah. It's like the end of Psycho; it totally takes you out of the mood.

So, in the future, women will be restored their rights as will minorities and the Republic of Gilead will be a matter for academic inquiry. But why does Atwood have to limit the possibilities? What about the Orwellian, "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." Instead, Gilead is just a blip. In her assertion of control over the imaginations of her readers, Atwood undermined her own narrative. I don't get that choice.
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Old 12-24-2016, 01:43 PM   #9
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I entertained myself by coming up with various theories for the book's setting at and around Harvard. Perhaps because Harvard was founded by the Puritans? Or because elite academia was still a white male stronghold? Because liberal institutions aren't sufficient defense against the powers of reaction? But I looked up Atwood after I finished and I suspect it's because
Spoiler:
she got a Master's degree at Radcliffe and it's the part of America she knew best
.

I rather disliked Offred. She was not heroic in the mold of Ofglen or Moira. She fought back only to the extent of hiding a matchstick in her mattress and made stupid choices. Her passivity was understandable but not admirable. And yet the machinery of the resistance saved her and not the others.
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Old 12-24-2016, 10:07 PM   #10
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I entertained myself by coming up with various theories for the book's setting at and around Harvard. Perhaps because Harvard was founded by the Puritans? Or because elite academia was still a white male stronghold? Because liberal institutions aren't sufficient defense against the powers of reaction? But I looked up Atwood after I finished and I suspect it's because
Spoiler:
she got a Master's degree at Radcliffe and it's the part of America she knew best
.

I rather disliked Offred. She was not heroic in the mold of Ofglen or Moira. She fought back only to the extent of hiding a matchstick in her mattress and made stupid choices. Her passivity was understandable but not admirable. And yet the machinery of the resistance saved her and not the others.
I agree with you as far as Offred not being heroic., but I think she was saved because she was the safest bet. The other ladies were almost too "radical" not to be found out, although Ofglen certainly hid it well at the beginning of the book.
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Old 12-24-2016, 10:26 PM   #11
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I agree with you as far as Offred not being heroic., but I think she was saved because she was the safest bet. The other ladies were almost too "radical" not to be found out, although Ofglen certainly hid it well at the beginning of the book.
I think OfFred was saved because Nick was vulnerable if she were caught. She'd have given up his name under torture. OfGlen killed herself rather than be taken and betray her fellow conspirators.
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Old 12-25-2016, 12:12 AM   #12
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Well, we really don't know for certain that Offred was saved, but I don't think her courage or lack thereof is really germane to the story. She was an "everyman" caught up in events over which she had little control.
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Old 12-29-2016, 01:12 PM   #13
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This is one of my favourite books. I first read it many years ago, and then re-read it recently. One of the things that I love about this book (and several other's of Atwood) is that she has a knack for taking elements of current socio-political trends and then pushing them a little further so that the context feels familiar yet different. I think it is also timely right now given the potential impact on the US with a regime in power that favours limitations to reproductive freedom and sexuality.

On Nyssa and issybird's points on Offred, heroism and survival: I don't know that we can evaluate their choices fairly. It is also my own instinct to think that the women could have done more. I mean, they could remember freedom. This was not generations after a significant change. The women could remember a different life. How could they not do more to reclaim their freedom? But I also think that that is Atwood's point. We have many examples in history of a social group "submitting" to a worsening of their own oppression. I think the reality is that fear and the desire to survive conspire to make resistance seem hopeless or too frightening, combined with the very real threats of violence. The handmaidens saw what was done to those who resisted.

On the epilogue: I remember disliking it the first time I read it, as I wanted to know more, but now it doesn't bother me. I do want to know what happens to Offred but there is also a bit of hope in the epilogue that maybe domination can't last forever. It makes the book less bleak. However, maybe it is false hope.
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Old 12-29-2016, 02:09 PM   #14
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On Nyssa and issybird's points on Offred, heroism and survival: I don't know that we can evaluate their choices fairly. It is also my own instinct to think that the women could have done more. I mean, they could remember freedom. This was not generations after a significant change. The women could remember a different life. How could they not do more to reclaim their freedom? But I also think that that is Atwood's point. We have many examples in history of a social group "submitting" to a worsening of their own oppression. I think the reality is that fear and the desire to survive conspire to make resistance seem hopeless or too frightening, combined with the very real threats of violence. The handmaidens saw what was done to those who resisted.
(Emphasis added by me)

This ties in with a similar point made in the book I'm currently reading, Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler.
In it she, through her main character Dana, makes a very poignant statement:
Quote:
“I closed my eyes and saw the children playing their game again. 'The ease seemed so frightening.' I said. 'Now I see why.'
'What?'
'The ease. Us, the children ... I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”
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Old 12-29-2016, 03:09 PM   #15
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...

This ties in with a similar point made in the book I'm currently reading, Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler.
In it she, through her main character Dana, makes a very poignant statement:

“I closed my eyes and saw the children playing their game again. 'The ease seemed so frightening.' I said. 'Now I see why.'
'What?'
'The ease. Us, the children ... I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”
Great quote. I've never read anything by Butler but her books are always recommended to me.
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