Margaret Atwood’s explosive dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has seen a resurgence in popularity with the popular TV series released in 2017. Many have said that the series’ release is timely because of the upsurge of troubling rhetoric that mirrors many of the dangerous ideas presented in the novel, both in the political arena and online.
In the Republic of Gilead, Offred, a young Handmaid, has just started her newest post at the Commander’s house. As a Handmaid, it is her duty to bear the Commander and his Wife a child. Offred is unhappy, remembering tidbits of her life before this one, with her husband Luke and their daughter. The Handmaids are forced into this life.
Offred’s primary conflict throughout the novel is that she has a 2-year time period in which to bear the Commander a child. However, the Commander also wishes to get to know Offred better, and begins inviting her to his study late at night without his wife, Serena Joy. Offred and the Commander’s Guardian, Nick, have begun to notice each other as well.
Offred’s daily shopping partner, Ofglen, begins to reveal that she may be a part of an underground resistance movement called Mayday. The Commander plays Scrabble with Offred and begins to bring her gifts. Eventually, her brings her to a club where men and hired women mingle. Serena Joy desperately wants a child and knows her husband is probably infertile; she develops a scheme for Offred to sleep with Nick.
After a Women’s Salvaging, or public hanging, and a Particicution (where the Handmaids beat a man to death as punishment for the crime of rape), Ofglen reveals that the man was actually a political operative. Later, Ofglen has been replaced by another Handmaid-- now “Ofglen.”
Serena Joy finds out about Offred’s outing to the club, and confronts both Offred and the Commander. Soon afterwards, an Eye van arrives to take Offred away. Nick comes up to tell her that they are really Mayday operatives and to trust him, so Offred does. As she is taken from the home, the Commander believes that she will betray him.
The final part of the novel is called “Historical Notes”, and is purportedly a transcript from a symposium looking at the Gileadean era from the year 2195. The speaker gives the history of “The Handmaid’s Tale” transcript, and their attempts to establish its origins and the identity of the Handmaid. The tale was told on a series of cassette tapes, and it was recovered in Bangor, Maine.