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The Handmaid's Tale

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I've just read it for my English A1 class, and it's a pretty fascinating book. In all my years of reading dreaded novels and books, I think this is the first time I actually read the book not because it was assigned for me to finish but because I actually liked the plot and wanted to read more.

My teacher told us that this book will generate different views from each part of the world, and I tend to agree with him. I don't think a person living in say in Asia (since they tend to have extremely intricate traditions and cultures) will interpret this book like another person will in the West. What did you think? I personally think it resembles much of post-revolutionary Iran, especially in the way society is structured (not the actual plot, though). If you've ever read Reading Lolita in Tehran, you'll know what I mean.

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It was definitely interesting, and I liked the book, and I like to think that if I wasn't so busy at the time the reading was assigned, I would have read the last 15 pages rather than reading and rereading chunks of those pages to support an essay I wrote :)

I think that you're generalizing a bit too much. Generalizations are helpful because we would be so lost without them, but I don't know that I can agree in a major difference in interpretation/opinion between two people only because one lives in the "East" and one lives in the "West." Please don't take this in the wrong way. I'm just sharing my opinion. :P I think that geography is less important and the immediate surroundings you were reared in is more important. Culture, you can argue, is very much linked to geography. But in one region, you can have so many different people who believe so many different things. What you believe in and your past experiences will shape your impression of the book and what you get out of it.

For those of you who haven't read The Handmaid's Tale

it's a dystopian work by Margaret Atwood. The handmaids are basically used to give birth to children. A wealthy family will have its own handmaid for some time, and this handmaid will engage in a ritual with the male of the household with the male's wife present. The idea is to take all emotion and attachment out of this sex. There's a lot more that Atwood does with the book. It's very interesting and eye-opening. One of the things is that you have a struggle for knowledge and the idea that knowledge is very much power, so it's not all about sex :)

Unfortunately, I am quite ignorant of post-revolutionary Iran. Could you elaborate?

What did you think about the ending? [semi spoiler. But not really.] I don't know how to interpret it, and it's so, so frustrating. Usually with endings like these, I can find some sort of solace with myself. I can say I believe _____ happened, but I really had no clue. I don't trust Nick very much, and I don't see how the book can have a happy ending. But then I really want to believe in Nick and that it works out.... haha any thoughts?

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Well it's been a while since I read the book but yes, I did like it even though at times I think it's a too disturbing. I'm not sure what you mean by interpret it differently, as in, interpret what? how?. If it's about the fact whether a person living in the "east" would be more likely to accept the practices in the book than a person in the "west" then I can't say I agree. I think today (most) society has evolved to a point where the society mentioned in the book, especially the handmaid practice, would at least be looked on with apprehension, if we don't consider it outrageous and offensive.

Oh certainly interpretation would be very different across different cultures, I don't deny that. The premise of the whole book is based on a Bible passage. I wonder how a person with better and more intimate knowledge of the Bible and understand the context of that passage would react to this.

The one issue I have with this book is that the society seemed to have evolved incredibly fast. So there was a nuclear breakout or whatever that wiped out the whole country, making most people infertile, that's what started the whole handmaid business in the first place. But this must be in Offred's life time since she remembers it, and she's still in her childbearing age, and she has a small daughter. So the change in society happens probably what, 10 years ago, but it seems so entrenched that you would think all this has been going on for years. I'm not saying it's not possible. With enough fear, the government can probably enforce anything and people will make themselves believe/forget.

Oh the end...I like the notes at the end actually, where we find out that all this is a transcript record, it gives a different level to the whole story, it makes you look at the story from a more historical perspective. I can't remember too much of the epilogue at the end, but I felt it gave a bit of hope...that society did somehow turn out to be the better after that? How long after that, I can't recall/it wasn't mentioned...

If you watch the movie (starring Natasha Richardson I think...) they have a different ending there, where Offred lives and presumably gives birth in hiding. I don't have too much opinion on Nick, whether that's on first reading, or now.

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Oh certainly interpretation would be very different across different cultures, I don't deny that. The premise of the whole book is based on a Bible passage. I wonder how a person with better and more intimate knowledge of the Bible and understand the context of that passage would react to this.

The one issue I have with this book is that the society seemed to have evolved incredibly fast. So there was a nuclear breakout or whatever that wiped out the whole country, making most people infertile, that's what started the whole handmaid business in the first place. But this must be in Offred's life time since she remembers it, and she's still in her childbearing age, and she has a small daughter. So the change in society happens probably what, 10 years ago, but it seems so entrenched that you would think all this has been going on for years. I'm not saying it's not possible. With enough fear, the government can probably enforce anything and people will make themselves believe/forget.

Oh the end...I like the notes at the end actually, where we find out that all this is a transcript record, it gives a different level to the whole story, it makes you look at the story from a more historical perspective. I can't remember too much of the epilogue at the end, but I felt it gave a bit of hope...that society did somehow turn out to be the better after that? How long after that, I can't recall/it wasn't mentioned...

If you watch the movie (starring Natasha Richardson I think...) they have a different ending there, where Offred lives and presumably gives birth in hiding. I don't have too much opinion on Nick, whether that's on first reading, or now.

I don't know that reactions might really be different. The person might be likely to take more offense if he or she was going to take offense in the first place. The main difference is being able to appreciate the author's technique/symbols/whatever. I can sorta remember the typewriter thing... I believe there was something religious related to that, but I had no clue that the premise of the novel was from a biblical verse or passage.

I never really thought of the speed. I didn't even realize that a nuclear whatever caused the infertility. Guess we know how closely I was reading... But I really liked the scratched message in her cupboard thing. It was interesting to think about on multiple levels. I didn't like how everyone dissected the Scrabble game. Yeah, it was important and all, but I got sick of that reference. It showed up in almost anything someone would say.

Anyways, about the time thing. It doesn't matter so much to me that it wasn't realistic. One of the things about dystopias is the scare factor. It was shocking to have Offred's mother fighting for freedom like that. And then Serena Joy. Do you remember her? I don't know if I'm sympathetic or apathetic.

I felt like nothing could really be trusted, which might have been the point. It's kind of like the tower of Babel, but rather than not being able to communicate, you're not able to trust each other. I couldn't feel hopeful about the ending. I was leaning more toward Offred being caught.

Offred, Ofglen, Ofwarren, etc. Wow. The names are scary. And to know that you can be replaced by another Offred. To see your "friend" replaced and have to call this new person, this stranger, Offred. To have a buddy system so that you're spying on each other.

Reminds me of 1984, which I lovee. :P

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It was definitely interesting, and I liked the book, and I like to think that if I wasn't so busy at the time the reading was assigned, I would have read the last 15 pages rather than reading and rereading chunks of those pages to support an essay I wrote :P

I think that you're generalizing a bit too much. Generalizations are helpful because we would be so lost without them, but I don't know that I can agree in a major difference in interpretation/opinion between two people only because one lives in the "East" and one lives in the "West." Please don't take this in the wrong way. I'm just sharing my opinion. :) I think that geography is less important and the immediate surroundings you were reared in is more important. Culture, you can argue, is very much linked to geography. But in one region, you can have so many different people who believe so many different things. What you believe in and your past experiences will shape your impression of the book and what you get out of it.

For those of you who haven't read The Handmaid's Tale

it's a dystopian work by Margaret Atwood. The handmaids are basically used to give birth to children. A wealthy family will have its own handmaid for some time, and this handmaid will engage in a ritual with the male of the household with the male's wife present. The idea is to take all emotion and attachment out of this sex. There's a lot more that Atwood does with the book. It's very interesting and eye-opening. One of the things is that you have a struggle for knowledge and the idea that knowledge is very much power, so it's not all about sex :)

Unfortunately, I am quite ignorant of post-revolutionary Iran. Could you elaborate?

What did you think about the ending? [semi spoiler. But not really.] I don't know how to interpret it, and it's so, so frustrating. Usually with endings like these, I can find some sort of solace with myself. I can say I believe _____ happened, but I really had no clue. I don't trust Nick very much, and I don't see how the book can have a happy ending. But then I really want to believe in Nick and that it works out.... haha any thoughts?

Oh, yes I know it's a generalization. :) But I can't help but think about how living in the Middle East has shaped the way I looked at the book. As I was reading the book, I kept thinking about how it related to countries ruled by religious fundamentalists, like Iran, Saudi Arabia (Well they don't rule per say, they just legitimize those who are ruling), and Afghanistan (they too aren't ruling, but they still influence modern Afghan society) and how women, specifically, are to be treated. Well, obviously, none of these countries have a handmaid system or infertility problems, but the way the society is structured is somewhat similar. For example, there was a comparison about women before the establishment of Gilead and after. Before, women had to protect themselves by locking their doors and taking precautions. After the Republic of Gilead was established, however, they didn't need to protect themselves. The government supposedly looked out for them by creating laws that prohibit the males to even stare at them (i.e. Nick staring at Offred). That kind of reminded me of these countries I mentioned above because they're the same as well. Talking to a girl who isn't a relative is punishable for guys in Saudi Arabia (if it is interpreted as malicious 'flirtation', then the guy is flogged at least 20 times). Women are forced to veil themselves, just like the Handmaids do by wearing those wings, to protect themselves from the eyes of men in both Saudi and Iran. In some areas where the Taliban still have some control, women are veiled from head-to-toe as well.

Oh and about Iran. Before the Islamic Revolution, Iran was experiencing a great of deal of modernization in terms of womens' rights and religion. There were actually three cabinet ministers in the government, which is amazing when one looks at a country in the Middle East. However, after the revolution, women were stripped of their rights - they were forced to veil themselves, they were marginalized, and their active participation in government diminished. I read in a book somewhere that one of the female cabinet ministers was executed.

I thought the ending was pretty mysterious. Why not let us know what happens to her?! Ah, I guess that's the essence of literature - to keep you thinking.

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That precarious balance of freedom with order... it's ironic. And I think that some people think their governments are doing an okay job of trying to achieve a balance while others are grossly discontent. It's hard for me to imagine that even in the countries you named the vast majority of women believe x. I really think we have our own interpretations. They have their own hardships that can give them different lenses to filter the book through, but no one's the same, you know? I sometimes make connections with a character or object that is unlikely for my culture, for me. There's a spontaneity that the author presents through word choice that the reader engages with on an individual level. But going back to the freedom versus order thing, that's a universal that all people struggle with. We may be on opposite ends sometimes, but we can share something.

These places that you described--is it the same throughout the nation or is it more rigid in the less populated areas? I'd think that touristy places wouldn't at least have this, but then it might be like the Japanese people in the book. o.0

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Yes, definitely! In Saudi Arabia, some cities are "freer" than others, like Jeddah which is a really beautiful tourist city, but at the same time some are more stricter than others like the capital, Riyadh. In Iran, the capital and famous tourist spot Tehran would be considered 'free' since there's more people for one and the religious police won't be roaming around eveywhere. I'm not sure though.

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I don't think I've ever come across such in depth talk about the aspect of interpretation, I'm amazed and excited at the same time. My opinion: to a certain extent interpretations might differ but the author (I think) wrote the novel in a such a way that it relates to the entire human race. The themes explored and concerns expressed relate to all of us and are meant to open our eyes to the posibility of a destructive future. Mais, that is only my opinion. merci :sadnod:

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I definitely agree with sweetnsimple786. This really reminded me of 1984. It's kind of like the sister book in some ways. Although i feel that the ending is open to interpretation, I chose to interpret it the happy way :P

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