Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


When I first picked up this book, I was 99% certain that I would hate it. The synopsis tells us that it’s “a superlative exercise in science fiction and a profoundly felt moral story” – words from Atwood herself. The story takes place in the fictional Republic of Gilead, where women and the story’s main character Offred have very few options open to them. Offred’s only option is to breed children for the Commander and his wife. And if she doesn’t, she will be hanged at The Wall or be made to die slowly of radiation sickness. Sound grim? That’s because it is.

This novel, is a story about a woman who grows tired of the repressive state she lives in and longs to return to the husband and child she had before. Set in the future, Atwood lets us in to a disturbing world without the basic rights we are used to and takes us on a journey with Offred as she comes to define what real freedom means to her.

Okay so this whole idea is not something I would usually be drawn to. But it was a set text for my English A-Level, which means that I had to read it. And I’m actually really happy I did, because not only did it introduce me to a really great writer but it re-defined my opinions on a ton of moral issues.

The novel is narrated by a female voice that only gets stronger throughout the book. During the first few parts, we get the sense that Offred is unhappy, wants to return to her formal life but will do nothing to rebel against the repressive state she has been forced to live underneath. What’s brilliant about this book, is that Offred becomes more and more liberated throughout.

Her relationship with the two main male characters in the story (The Commander and Nick) is an interesting one. But I don’t want to reveal any spoilers so I won’t say much more than that. Read it. You will definitely have a conflicted opinion.

It’s important to note whilst reading this, that although female oppression is a main topic in this novel, females are not the only oppressed groups. People are oppressed racially, they are oppressed based on their physical capabilities (fertile, infertile, disabled) and men also have quite a hard time. There is a very clear hierarchy within this state and if you’re not at the top, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a female, a male or a person of colour; you will face oppression in some way or another.

The ending to the book is left open for us to make our own judgement on. What happens to Offred? Does she get taken away by The Eyes or do the Mayday resistant group secretly save her? What happens to Nick? Does Offred ever find Luke or her child again? These are questions that Atwood specifically leaves us asking. The Historical Notes section at the end does provide some answers and they do a good job of adding dimension and realism to Offred’s story – which we find out has been discovered some years later as a historical artefact.

I did thoroughly enjoy reading this book and I think it’s brilliant. Would I read it again? Definitely. Would I recommend it to others? For sure.


I’ve given this a 4 tick rating because I loved the way it was written. I loved the way that Atwood broke the novel up in to different sections, particular the “Night” sections that give us Offred’s personal stream of consciousness and often reveal glimpses of her past to us. I liked the inclusion of the Historical Notes section and the open end to the novel. I think that this fits well with the idea of dystopia, as it captures the uncertainty that often comes with books within this genre. 

Reviewed by: Tanya Marie

View all my reviews

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