Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel about the near future of the United States, or at least part of it, after ecological degradation and political turmoil lead to a theocratic revolution.  Reduced fertility combined with religious bigotry create a rigid, ideologically controlled, sexually repressed society in which women are virtual slaves.  For women, in particular, reading and learning are forbidden.  It won the Nebula Award and Booker Prize in 1986 and the Prometheus Award and Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987.  Often a part of school curricula, the book has it's own Wikipedia entry, and it's own volumes among Cliff Notes and Spark Notes,

Canadian Author Margaret Atwood has won these and other awards, and holds honorary degrees from at least a dozen universities.

The Handmaid's Tale also ranked 37th on the American Library Associations list of most challenged books for 1990 to 1999, and is listed in Sova's book Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds.  Challengers sometimes object to sex scenes, brutality toward women, or a bleak view of the future. Anyone who reads the book will realize that these claims are exaggerated to hide what is really bothering most challengers, which is that the book portrays fundamentalist religion (of any kind) as a hurtful and destructive force.

While responding to censorship attempts, I am often reminded of The Handmaid's Tale, as censorship plays a prominent roll in the story.  It is a prophecy of what life could be like if the censors win, if those who fear books and ideas come to power, if those who don't read get to tell those who do read what they can and cannot read.