So I bought a house. Moved my mother in with us in her own apartment. Sold her place. Renovated our old one to ready it for rental. Got half new staff at work. Raising the tiny one. It’s been a bit since I’ve posted, but life has been hectic. Nothing like a nice relaxing read to soothe my jangled nerves, so of course I pick The Handmaid’s Tale to read (and make my coworker book club cohorts read for our first selection.) I’m a masochist.
You know the plot, so did I. It was my third time through. I won’t bore you with a recap. Once you get through the shock of reading this through the first time, the propulsive “what’s gonna happen next” of the fanning pages, different things are foregrounded on rereading.
For me, I read this book differently because of Tiny. Atwood manages to make Offred’s motherhood understated, a facet of her womanhood she loses as a handmaid, without undermining it. Too often, female characters stop being people once they start being mothers. Even in the real world, even before we started slouching toward gilead, women got subsumed into the role of “so-and-so’s Mom,” a miniature “offred-ing.” Atwood elegantly avoids this for her protagonist, even as she shows how motherhood is lionized by Gilead while mothers are devalued in Offred’s lost daughter. We learn so little of her child; we learn far more of who she is as a daughter than as a mother, but aren’t all mothers shaped by their experiences as daughters? Offred isn’t reduced to a trope, a woman who loses her identity by giving birth, even as her reproductive potential defines her in Gilead. Atwood avoids simplifying her protagonist in the same way her dystopia would; her loss is as a daughter, a wife, a friend, a woman.
But oh man, once you have a kid (one nearly named Atwood himself) those passages about running through the woods with your child, drugged to keep her passive enough to pass a checkpoint but now dead weight in your arms with pursuers close behind? I can’t.
I look forward to discussing this with my (mostly female) coworkers; at each stage of my life I get something new from the book.
And, as always, don’t let the bastards grind you down.