Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, is a chilling story of what a possible future America could be like if religious fundamentalists took over the government.
The men in charge of what was formerly the United States - now called "The Republic of Gilead"- have stripped away all women's rights.
They are no longer allowed to read, write, smoke, drink, talk with others except when necessary, or even use their own names. They now identify themselves by the word "of" plus the first name of the Commander they are assigned to at the time.
This story is told by Offred, who once had a husband and daughter, but has no idea what has happened to either of them. She's now forced to be the handmaid of a high-ranking officer.
Her Commander's wife, Serena Joy, had been a televangelist in the previous society. She'd preached the virtues of women staying in the home, which, of course, she did not do at the time. Now she is forced to do just that, in a world she helped to create.
Although Serena Joy is a Wife, the highest social level allowed women,
and has some authority over the other classes of women, she has no real
All females in the Republic of Gilead are divided into categories, and wear different colors of clothing, according to the group to which they belong.
Wives wear blue, Daughters wear white until they are married. (These are arranged marriages, of course.)
Handmaids wear red. These are women of child-bearing age who are (hopefully) fertile and able to bear children for the Commander and his wife.
If she is successful in delivering a healthy baby, she must immediately give it up to the Wife. The handmaid will then be passed on to another household, for the same purpose.
Offred lives in the home with the Commander and Serena Joy. She is allowed only in certain parts of the house, and spends much of her time in her room, which has been cleared of anything that could possibly be used for a suicide attempt. She eventually learns that the handmaid before her had hanged herself in that room.
Sex with handmaids is for reproduction only, and on the night of "the Ceremony", when the Commander attempts to impregnate her, the Wife is present.
I won't even attempt to describe this disturbing scene, which seems to be distasteful to all three of them, most certainly to the women.
A school superintendent in Judson, Texas, banned The Handmaid's Tale from an advanced placement English study program after a parent complained that it was "sexually explicit and offensive to Christians". In 2006, a committee of teachers, students, and parents appealed the decision to the school board, which overruled the superintendent.
In 2001 a group of Texas parents also challenged the book, declaring it "anti-Christian and pornographic".
Also in 2001, in Pennsylvania, it was downgraded from "required" to "optional" for 11th grade summer reading, for "inappropriate subject matter".
The Handmaid's Tale is a riveting story. It's also horrifying. Especially if the reader is aware that right now ( in 2013) there are religious extremists relentlessly fighting their way into places of power in order to create a society that could be much too close to the one described in this story.
This book serves as a wake-up call to all of us to pay attention to what is going on in our country. Keep current on politics. Know your candidates as well as you possibly can. Vote!
We don't want to ever find ourselves living in a world where the freedom we now have is only a memory.