Atwood’s dystopia is thick with rituals which twist religion, degrade women and disturb the reader. One factors that makes The Handmaid’s Tale so brilliantly disturbing is that, alike countless dystopian novels,’ it modifies sex into merely a necessary task to sustain the population.
However, ‘The Ceremony’ still involves humans and the actual act of sex. It wholly rids sex of emotion and de-humanises it to a heartless act but still involves people- three people; the husband, the wife… and the handmaid. ‘The Salvaging,’ (a twist on the religious word ‘salvation’) which involves a hoard of repressed woman being authorized to take their anger out on one man who has broken one of the numerous laws of ‘Gilead’ (the state), is equally as horrific.
Frequent references are made to the past as Offred immerses herself in her memories with her former husband, Luke, which effectively reminds the reader that this woman was, once, an ordinary woman, making the entire novel even more alarming. This offers a brilliant contrast to the bleak world which is Offred’s reality as she recalls, ‘How were we to know we were happy?’ Thus; Atwood successfully puts a mirror to her current own with its shallow values and its attitudes of constantly desiring more.
The novel ends with what could be considered as somewhat of an anti-climax. Had Atwood chosen to end it earlier, it would have been more effective. The glimmer of hope implied by the ending, even if minute, does not stay true to the harsh, brutal nature of the dystopia. Nonetheless, The Handmaid’s Tale displays Atwood’s incredible mind in both underpinning her writing with thought provoking ideas and in the way it is reads – every word’s a gem.
Added 19th June 2015