The Handmaid's Tale

Common Sense Media says

Gripping dystopian novel of religious state against women.

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Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

The Handmai'd Tale is a highly regarded example of dystopian fiction, a piece of satire specific to its date of origin and still relevant many years later and in many other cultures. Nominated for the Booker Prize and a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, it is frequently required reading in school and is often the target of censorship campaigns. It can serve as a springboard for discussions about religion, law, feminism, and many other topics.

Positive messages

Like most dystopian novels, The Handmaid's Tale instructs by negative example. Gilead is shown to be a hierarchical, monotheocratic patriarchy. Women have no autonomy, no control over finances, their bodies, or their intellectual pursuits. Author Margaret Atwood is most harsh in her depiction of fundamentalism of any kind, rather than any particular form of religion or government.

Positive role models

The narrator, known as "Offred," has the courage to question her captivity and hope for a day of freedom. Over the course of the novel, she begins to rebel in subtle ways.

Violence

The threat of corporal punishiment hangs over all the characters in The Handmaid's Tale. The corpses of dissidents are hung in public as grim reminders of the cost of rebellion. Offred does not witness much violence firsthand, but she learns of handmaids who have committed suicide by hanging. The most violent scene in the novel involves a Salvaging, a public ceremony where the women are whipped into a frenzy and then allowed to beat an accused prisoner to death.

Sex

Nonreproductive sex is prohibited in Gilead, punishable by exile or even death. As a handmaid, Offred must participate in the Ceremony, in which she lies between the legs of the Commander's Wife and then has sex with the Commander. (This is the novel's most sexually explicit scene.) Later, Offred spends time at a brothel as a guest of the Commander and even develops a sexual relationship with another character.

Language

Profanity is prohibited in Gilead, but swear words cannot be completely eradicated. "S--t" is used relatively frequently, as both an explitative and as a reference to feces. "Bitch," "tits," "damn" and "goddamn" are employed once or twice each. "F--k" and variations of it are used in the Ceremony scene.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Drinking, recreational drugs, and smoking are all prohibited in Gilead. Offred eventually learns, however, that alcohol and tobacco are available to the most powerful men. Scenes late in the novel are set in a brothel where drinking and smoking occur.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Handmaid's Tale is a powerful, potentially disturbing dystopian satire set in a future America where women have been stripped of all their civil rights. It features strong language, emotional and physical violence, and a couple of graphic sex scenes. The corpses of dissidents are hung in public as grim reminders of the cost of rebellion. There is mention of handmaids who have committed suicide by hanging. The most violent scene in the novel involves a public ceremony where women are whipped into a frenzy and then allowed to beat an accused person to death.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

The narrator of THE HANDMAID'S TALE, known only as \"Offred,\" tells of her life in the monotheocracy of Gilead, in what used to be the United States, sometime in the near future. She is a handmaid, kept to breed with \"the Commander\" and provide an heir at a time when the human birthrate is dangerously low. As she remembers the years before her captivity and begins to dream of an end to her captivity, Offred develops new relationships with the Commander, his Wife and their driver. But can she trust any of them?

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is one of the most acclaimed dystopian novels of the 20th century. An uncompromising portrait of a totalitarianism and institutional misogyny, it critiques fundamentalism in all its forms. Details matter to Atwood, and Offred's tale is related with precision and deep compassion.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why dystopian novels -- like The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and The Hunger Games (2008) -- continue to be such a popular genre.

  • Why do you think author Margaret Atwood appends "Historical Notes" to the main narrative of the novel?

  • Do you think women's rights are in jeopardy today? Where and how?

  • In what ways can religion can shape government -- and vice versa?

Book details

Author:Margaret Atwood
Genre:Literary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Anchor Books
Publication date:September 13, 1985
Number of pages:311
Publisher's recommended age(s):16 - 17

This review of The Handmaid's Tale was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 17 years old Written byaleea03 August 19, 2013
AGE
16
QUALITY
 

Give It A Go!

This is one of the books we had to read for the second year if our English Literature A-Level so I bought it and read it straight away. At first, the ambiguity as to what is actually happening and the constant flashbacks can be a little confusing and I personally think that if you quite easily give in on reading a book if you aren't captured right away, then this may be a difficult book to finish. I'm the sort of person who will finish a book once started and I'm really glad I did because it's a brilliant, thought provoking story which once you get into, you will demand to know the end of. I would definitely encourage anyone 16 and onwards to give this book a chance because it manages to make you think whilst also being an incredible story.
What other families should know
Educational value
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Parent of a 16 and 18 year old Written byDetermined in AZ December 6, 2013
AGE
18
QUALITY
 

Stay away from this one

Their are some episodes of sex which is described in detail and bad language. I could not find any redeeming value and it was not a satisfying ending. I would stay away from this one for my teen and yourself. It's not worth the time.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Kid, 12 years old January 13, 2015
AGE
14
QUALITY
 

Thoughts on the Dystopia

The Handmaid's Tale is a gripping tale of a dystopian society based on the Old Testament. Thanks to this, this society heavily discriminates against women. This book is very good. Lovers of speculative fiction will love thinking about why the women are oppressed in this book. However, there are two sex scenes, (one more graphic than the other) a brothel, multiple uses of cigarettes, and people being discriminated/killed for their religion/sexuality. If you know your kid can handle this book, then let them read it. Otherwise, I'd recommend it for older audiences.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

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