Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Image Source: Amazon

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale 

Author: Margaret Atwood 

Publisher: Vintage 

Genre: Dystopian/futuristic 

Format: Novel 

Number of Pages: 311 

Publish Date: 1986 

Written by Canadian Author, Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian/futuristic novel set in New England. The state – known as Gilead – is ran by white, supremacist patriarchs. The Handmaids are women selected by the state to produce children, in the face of growing fertility problems.  

Synopsis of The Handmaid’s Tale 

Offred used to live a normal life. She worked at a library and cared for her daughter. But terror comes to New England, and a totalitarian theonomic state known as Gilead has overpowered the government. With growing issues in fertility, and fewer births, many women have been selected to produce children. These women have had every sense of self stripped away from them and are practically isolated from the world. Offred is one of these women.  

But Offred’s desire to see her daughter again keeps her fighting through the struggle. When she catches the eye of the Commander, she knows that she can play this to her best interests. By obeying his every request, the Commander grows in fondness. However, it isn’t only the Commanders eye that she catches; Nick, a guardian assigned to the commanders home, is interested in Offred – he wants to get to know her, but that would be dangerous for both of them. Plus, after all this time, Offred is still holding out for Luke – the man from the past, and the father of her daughter. 


With the rise of the Gilead State, comes new rules and laws. And women are treated as nothing more than breeding machines. Offred – originally June – has been selected as a Handmaid. She is forced to dress, act and speak as wanted by the state. She has lost all of her freedom. And she has lost her family. But the state cares little for the comfort of the Handmaids. They are selected to remain pure, and will serve their commander without complaint. Offred is sent to Rachel and Leah Re-education Center, where she makes a friend in a woman called Moira. Moira has also been chosen as a Handmaid. 

Offred is allocated to reside in Commander Fred’s home to ensure that his every need is catered for. The Commander and his wife are struggling to have children, due to the Commander’s own infertility. Offred’s job is to provide them with a child. Offred has very little exposure to the outside world, and she must follow a routine. If she were to deviate from the rules, it could result in a public hanging. On her walks each day, she is accompanied by another Handmaid called Ofglen. Offred soon becomes aware that Ofglen may be part of a resistance group, and if it will help her see her daughter again, she wants to be a part of it too.  


This novel is full of characters, who have a wide range of morals between them. Offred – originally June – takes centre stage. We follow her fight against this unjust society and live every horrible event through her eyes. Commander Fred owns Offred and has taken a liking to her. He could be considered more sympathetic than other characters, and yet he still subjects Offred to slavery.

Serena Joy is the Commander’s wife, and she is desperate for a child. But she comes across as lifeless and defeated. She isn’t fond of Offred, but if it means having a child, she will do whatever it takes. Nick is a guardian working at the Commander’s home. He and Offred form a close bond during the novel, yet Offred’s heart is still set on Luke, her past lover. Luke made a run for it with Offred’s daughter in the hopes that he could make it over the Canadian border, but they were intercepted, and Offred is unknowing of their fates. 


The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on the topic of feminism and raises questions about how women have been treated in history, as well as how they continue to be treated. This is a story of power, friendships and struggle. Offred represents perseverance; the perseverance of women as a gender, in their fight for equal rights.

The novel also raises questions about the possible treatment of women in the future and is highly relative to the current state of America. With women being deprived of their bodily rights, it makes us question how far society will go to ensure that women are always the underdog. Characters like Serena Joy reflect how dangerous it can be to ignore a problem, and how we should support one another. She subjects June to mountains of suffering for her own benefit. The messages within this novel should be taken seriously to prevent this work of fiction from becoming reality.  


In conclusion, The Handmaid’s Tale is certainly a book everyone should read at some point during their life. However, it contains dark themes that some readers may find distressing, so make sure you investigate trigger warnings first. Much of the younger generation are only aware of the TV adaptation of this important novel, so I think that it should be encouraged by schools for older students to also have a look at the book. The messages are much deeper and more important than audiences today think. 

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good

Further Links:

To purchase The Handmaid’s Tale, click here

For additional information regarding Margaret Atwood, click here