The Handmaid’s Tale Book Review: A Stark Journey into Dystopia


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The Handmaid's Tale book review

Why I chose to do a book review of The Handmaid’s Tale, a book that has already imprinted itself on the sands of time, you might ask?

Well, the answer lies within the disturbing relevance of the story it weaves, a dystopian narrative rooted deeply in the soil of the sociopolitical zeitgeist.

Even though Atwood published this masterpiece back in 1985, it continues to resonate with the currents of our times, demanding attention and provoking thought, making it a perpetually timely read.

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

Total Score: 4.3/5













“The Handmaid’s Tale” wears a unique mantle of intrigue, chilling suspense, and eerie familiarity.

What sets this book apart is its ability to concoct an alternate world that’s both unimaginable yet uncomfortably close to reality.

Through the eyes of Offred, a Handmaid in the dystopian regime of Gilead, we explore a fresh take on the themes of gender and power dynamics, religious fundamentalism, and individual identity, creating a rare panorama that lingers long after the final page is turned.

Reading “The Handmaid’s Tale” was akin to stepping into a chilling winter morning – the cold a bracing shock, but the world around transformed into an ethereal wonderland.

As both a reader and a critic, I found myself drawn into Atwood’s haunting narrative. Her dystopia, while disturbing, offers a mirror reflecting our society’s potentially disastrous path if left unchecked.

I don’t mind admitting, it felt like receiving a literary wake-up call in the middle of the night, leaving me pondering, questioning, and fervently flipping through the pages.

By the end of the book, I was left with a renewed perspective on the strength and resilience of women amidst adversity. “The Handmaid’s Tale” redefined for me the concept of rebellion and resistance, showing that even in the face of overwhelming oppression, the human spirit could shine through in the subtlest of ways. I consider it one of the best inspirational books for women of all time.

And if that’s not the sign of a compelling read, I don’t know what is!

Content Overview

Let’s dig into “The Handmaid’s Tale.” We’re going to look at the building blocks that make this book a must-read. We’ll explore genre, themes, plot structure, and characters.


Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a chilling representation of dystopian fiction, with a touch of speculative fiction thrown in. It’s a unique blend of genres that paints a dark future where society is turned on its head.

Yet it’s not all gloom and doom, as the novel also features traces of feminist literature, bringing to light the resilience and strength of women in the face of extreme adversity.

Themes and Topics

The story revolves around several weighty themes such as totalitarianism, subjugation of women, rebellion, and the misuse of religion for political gain.

It also offers a poignant examination of identity and individuality, further stirring the thought pot for the readers.

Plot Structure Analysis

“The Handmaid’s Tale” employs a nonlinear narrative structure, with the tale told through a series of flashbacks interspersed with present-time events.

This adds a level of intrigue to the storytelling, drawing the reader into the protagonist’s past and her chilling present simultaneously.

The clever interplay between past and present enhances the depth of the narrative, delivering a story that is as thought-provoking as it is engaging.

Book Summary

Atwood crafts a dystopian future in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian state that has supplanted the United States.

The protagonist, Offred, is a Handmaid – a woman used solely for breeding in an attempt to combat declining birth rates. Offred is stripped of her past life, her family, her name, even her very identity.

Yet, within the confines of oppression, Offred’s human spirit struggles to break free. She clings to her memories, remembering a time when she was free, when she had a job, a family, and a name of her own.

Amidst the horrifying reality she lives in, Offred still dares to hope, to dream of rebellion and freedom, painting a stirring portrait of resilience that stays with the reader.

Character Analysis

Offred, the protagonist, is compelling in her resilience. Despite her bleak circumstances, she clings to her humanity, her spirit undeterred.

Her evolution throughout the book—from a woman trying to survive to one contemplating rebellion—is both inspiring and heartrending.

The characters around Offred, like the cruel Aunt Lydia or the enigmatic Commander, bring out the extremes of Gilead, revealing the true horror of a society where power is abused, and humanity is forgotten.

Standout Quotes

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”

Historical and Cultural Context

Written during the height of the ’80s backlash against second-wave feminism, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a chilling reminder of the fragility of women’s rights in the face of authoritarian regimes.

The book provides a critique of the era’s political climate, using speculative fiction to draw attention to societal norms that marginalize women. It reflects the underlying anxieties of the time, making it an important cultural artifact that continues to hold relevance today.

Writing Style & Tone

Atwood’s writing style in “The Handmaid’s Tale” can be described as vivid and evocative, yet incredibly concise.

She effortlessly melds stark descriptions of Gilead’s brutal world with the protagonist’s emotional introspection, providing a stark contrast between the outer oppression and inner resilience.

The tone of the book is uniformly somber and austere, mirroring the stark reality of life in Gilead. Reading this book feels like peeling back the layers of a hauntingly beautiful, yet ultimately tragic painting.

Writing Technique

Atwood employs several literary devices to enhance her narrative. She uses symbolism to represent and critique society, such as the Handmaids’ red gowns signifying fertility and the color of blood, a symbol of life and death.

Dramatic irony is also utilized, with the reader knowing more about Offred’s internal rebellion than the other characters. The use of flashbacks enhances the tension, providing stark contrasts between the protagonist’s past and present life.

The complexity of these techniques not only speaks volumes about Atwood’s masterful craft but also makes for an enriching reading experience.

Narrative Perspective

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is written in the first person, from the perspective of Offred. This intimate viewpoint gives readers an up-close look at Offred’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences in Gilead. It’s through her eyes that we perceive the dystopian world and its chilling realities.

This first-person narrative perspective helps foster a deep connection with Offred, adding a personal dimension to the overarching critique of society and power.


The pacing of “The Handmaid’s Tale” can be described as deliberate and measured. It’s neither a fast-paced thriller nor a languid piece of prose. Rather, Atwood balances the pacing perfectly to match the story’s gravity and depth.

The slow unveiling of Gilead’s horrors allows for extensive world-building and deep character development. It’s a slow burn that keeps readers engrossed, gradually intensifying until it reaches an unforgettable crescendo.

Reader’s Compass: Mapping the Journey

This section can lead potential readers through the intriguing landscapes of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Best for (type of reader)

“The Handmaid’s Tale” resonates strongly with readers who appreciate dystopian and speculative fiction. It’s an ideal read for those with an interest in feminist literature and social commentary.

If you’re the kind of reader who relishes thought-provoking narratives, appreciates complex characters, and isn’t afraid to confront harsh societal realities, this book will speak volumes to you.

Reading Difficulty

Despite its heavy themes, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is surprisingly accessible. Atwood’s clear and concise prose guides the reader through the complexities of Gilead.

The plot, though intricate, is unfolded with masterful simplicity. Readers should be prepared for some intense subject matter, but the clarity of Atwood’s storytelling eases the journey.

Emotional Impact

This book packs a powerful emotional punch. It’s a haunting tale that is likely to stay with the reader long after the final page.

The circumstances of Offred and other women in Gilead elicit strong feelings of empathy, outrage, and sorrow, making for a deeply affecting read.

Educational Value

“The Handmaid’s Tale” provides a stark critique of oppressive regimes and the subjugation of women, offering a great deal of educational value.

It encourages readers to consider the importance of personal freedom, the role of women in society, and the dangerous implications of extreme ideologies.

It’s a book that inspires discussion, critical thinking, and a deeper understanding of societal structures.

Content Warnings

As a dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale” includes themes of oppression, violence, and sexual coercion. It’s a raw and unflinching portrayal of a harsh, oppressive society, and readers sensitive to these topics should proceed with caution.

About the Author

Margaret Atwood is an acclaimed Canadian author, poet, and essayist known for her expansive body of work spanning numerous genres.

She has published over 50 books, including novels, poetry collections, short stories, and critical essays, and has been awarded numerous literary accolades.

Her distinctive feminist themes and penchant for speculative fiction have placed her among the titans of contemporary literature.

Author’s Inspiration and Influence

Atwood has often discussed the inspiration behind “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She wanted to explore the idea of a society that went in reverse concerning women’s rights, where modern liberties and freedoms had been stripped away.

Every rule and detail about Gilead was inspired by something that had already happened somewhere in history, making the dystopia a chilling compilation of humanity’s past mistakes.

Influences include historical events like the rise of totalitarian regimes and societal backlashes against women’s rights movements.

Atwood’s influence in literature and beyond is undeniable. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” along with her other works, has spurred important conversations about feminism, power dynamics, and the dangers of complacency in the face of political change.

The novel has not only left a lasting impact on dystopian fiction but also continues to resonate in our cultural consciousness, as reflected in the successful TV adaptation and the novel’s frequent citation in social and political discourse.

Impact and Reception

“The Handmaid’s Tale” has been lauded globally since its publication. It won the 1985 Governor General’s Award for Fiction in Canada and was shortlisted for the 1986 Booker Prize.

It also won the first-ever Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987. Its importance and popularity are underlined by its consistent presence on school reading lists and its status as a bestseller. It truly deserves a spotlight as one of the best books in recent history.

Quotes and Opinions About The Book

“Atwood’s novel is a potent brew of science fiction and Gothic horror, a nightmarish imagining of a future gone wrong.”The New York Times

“The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. It is brilliant, moving, horrifying.”Publisher’s Weekly

“An effect of chilling immediacy and dramatic precision… It is Atwood at her best.”The Guardian


Notable endorsements for “The Handmaid’s Tale” include praise from renowned authors like Don DeLillo and Angela Carter.

Literary critic Harold Bloom included it in his list of works contributing to the Western Canon, a clear testament to its significance in contemporary literature.

Impact and Legacy

“The Handmaid’s Tale” has left a powerful legacy in the world of literature and beyond. It’s been translated into dozens of languages and has profoundly influenced the dystopian genre. It has also been adapted into a successful television series, a graphic novel, and even an opera.

Its enduring relevance and impact are underscored by its resurgence in popular and critical attention in the recent years, sparked by the parallels drawn between the book’s themes and current socio-political issues.

Similar Recommendations

If you appreciated “The Handmaid’s Tale,” here are three other books you might enjoy:

  1. “1984” by George Orwell
  2. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
  3. “The Power” by Naomi Alderman

Final Verdict

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a chilling, haunting, and brilliantly crafted piece of speculative fiction that boldly confronts and exposes the potential dangers of complacency and subjugation.

With her masterful storytelling and unforgettable characters, Atwood has created a tale that transcends the boundaries of time and continues to resonate in our collective consciousness.

This novel is more than a cautionary tale; it’s a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a reminder of the need for vigilance in the face of oppressive powers.

It is, in my opinion, an essential read – one that you won’t easily forget.


About the author

A literary aficionado and caffeine connoisseur, brewing stories and coffee while navigating life with my trusty feline sidekick, Mr. Spot. When I'm not lost in the pages of a novel, you'll find me hunting down the perfect pen and mug combo!