Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Challenges to the Individual's Basic Rights - Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale

Throughout history some people have tried to impose themselves and their ideas and values on others, often with the help of violence. What happens to a person and her understanding of self when all her rights are taken away and she is forced to live in a political system that disrespects life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Margaret Atwood explores this question in her novel A Handmaid's Tale, which has also been turned into a movie (in 1990).

Please read the novel AND watch the movie and comment on both or either. Please also feel free to raise questions that you find interesting and that you would like us to discuss in more detail.

Here the link to the movie (please ignore the German subtitles):

In case you would like to experience Margaret Atwood live: she will be in 3 events at the Vancouver Writers Festival on October 20th!
If you miss the Writers Festival - but would like to get to know her a bit more, please watch the following interview:

As you know, Margaret Atwood is also an excellent poet, and most of you are familiar with at least some of her poems. If you would like to hear her read some of her poems and other short works, please check out the following recordings:

Please feel free to add more links in addition to your comments and questions!

Thank you!



  1. " Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale"

    I find this film very interesting, and historical. She creates a What if Analysis; warns or predict the awful situation, if their is a triumph of totalitarianism in future. Somehow it also resembles U.S politics right wingers of late twentieth-century, who steadfastly push women back into the traditional roles common in the 1950s, delight in the AIDS epidemic among homosexuals, and threaten death to members of the gay culture — parallel Hitler's fascist candor.

    Atwood's fictional Gilead depends on the allotment of enslaved baby-makers as a means of assuring the birth of white children to repopulate a declining Caucasian nation.

  2. I saw the movie and it was really interesting. In movie, inspector of camps says "You are not a woman anymore, but live as Handmaid." And, one woman says, "Oh, my baby" after bearing baby, inspector says "Not my, our baby." women who can be pregnant treated as object staying in concentrate camps.
    Kate, the handmaid, is sent to a commander house. She stays there and be imposed getting pregnant for cammander and his wife. In movie, she looks like hero. Though she is a handmaid, she resists to commander, and finally she kills him. In the end, woman escapes due to Nick's help and lives in mountain. She says, "I don't know it is the end for me or new I wait. I wait for my baby be born in different world... I will be going to find her, and she will remember me."
    I think Time plays an important role in this movie. The background of this movie is future, and her past memory always stays with her, especially about her daughter. And, she lives in mountain, waiting for her future. Actually, we don't know what kind of future will wait for her, but I think director leave it intentionally for us to think about that.

  3. Hello all! :)))

    I saw the movie and I read the book and both of then were very interesting and chocking at the same time. The experiences that the main character pass through the book are very roof for her and reaches everyone else. Analyzing the situation through the Self Perspective, we can tell how the Self changes due to the situation that the person is in. Offred, the protagonist, in the beginning of the movie, for example seems to be a very happy lady with her family, even though they are running way from the government that are looking for them. during the novel we can see how she changes, sometimes even considering that the situation of being in the Commander's house is not that bad and developing feelings for him - the one that represents the totalitarian state. Offred also talks about her body, that after all the repression that she suffers is minimized to a womb. The only function of the Handmaid's is to give born to babies and they are seem for the others and even for their own selves as an object of manipulation, where no experiences, no words and none count, unless the possibility of having a baby. Offred's self is described only by that: by trying to have a baby in order of not being send to the camp and die there.
    Another example of how the self changes while being in a state where the person can't express herself and can't have any feelings and judgments is Offred's friend - Moira. In the novel and in the movie, first she appears as someone that is really into breaking the laws and fight for what is right. She escapes the centre and also assumes her sexual option. Some time later, Offred meets her while visiting a brothel with the Commander and see how her friend changed - she became a prostitute and no longer has the feelings of changing the society and fighting for her life. The state dominated her life and her self changed.
    The movie make us think about the forces that the state and some people can have to one another when having power and how the self, the believes and the person changes and adapts the best way it can to what is happening at the moment.

    ~ Mariella.

  4. The Handmaid's Tale is a very intense and dramatic story. Despite being fiction, it portrays real situations where some people find themselves in charge and assume the right to dictate to others, make choices for them and completely do away with human rights. These examples cited above are easily found in the book Night, where Hitler was in control against Jews.
    The feeling after reading both books is indignation. How can a person want to lead the life of another human being? How do other people go through situations where they feel unhappy, demoted, and without rights and think she/he is doing a good thing?
    It is possible to see how offred changes your perception of her body that has ceased to be a way to get pleasure and has become an object. She also realizes that she, as a human being, no longer matter to others; in fact, the only thing that matters is her uterus. All care is only to keep her healthy, so she can generate a baby.
    In her room at the commander's house, Ofrred realizes that there is nothing that can serve to commit suicide. In these desperate situations where the person feels nothing, is often thought of suicide or that life ends somehow. The same happened in the concentration camps where Elie reports that many people would rather die than go through painful situations.

  5. Hi Viren, Hyu Jin, Mariella, and Elisane,

    Very good observations! Thanks for sharing,


  6. It is a political thriller, the whole sotry's content is make me feel very heavy-heartedness. The story revolves around Offred ( the Handmaid ) fate, she lives in a sex for reproduction, everything from authority control society. This is a sick society with no human rights and people can not choose the way to live.

  7. When I was researching about Christians fanatics, the first thing that came into my mind was this story. When the book describes how characters in the story read the Bible, it is unfair how they gave it another interpretation. In order to fully understand the message you have to read it all. In the same way, as i mentioned in my research, fanatics usually give the literal meaning of the Bible's teachings when it is not the way it is supposed to be. One person can read the Bible millions of times and never understand it. It is a matter of willingness and be mentally prepared. However, the handmaid's tale is an example of how the effects that extreme devotions can cause.