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  • trish 7:02 pm on September 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Handmaid’s Tale Wrap Up 

    My sincerest apologies! I had troubles with the website two weeks ago and wasn’t able to post my questions, so I saved them and was going to try at work but forgot. 😦 Then I was going to post last week and just forgot because I put the book where I couldn’t see it. Ugh! Bad moderator!

    So I thought we could take this opportunity and just wrap up with some thoughts about the book. I have some specific questions that you should still be able to answer, and some more general questions about the book.

    The Commander says, “Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse, for some.” Do you think this society is better for anyone?

    What do you think Offred means when she says, “We were both feeling miserable. How were we to know we were happy, even then.”

    What do you think Offred’s motivation was to record all of this?

    Jeanne suggested this great question: What is your first reaction to hearing Prof Pieixoto say “we must be cautious about passing moral judgment upon the Gildeadeans” and what is your more considered reaction?

    Is objectivity really necessary when studying the Gileadeans?

    What did you think of The Handmaid’s Tale as a whole? Did it make you look at anything different? Did it scare you in any way?

    I just wanted to thank everyone for reading The Handmaid’s Tale with me and participating in the discussions! You had fantastic insights that made me look at the story in a whole new way. I was worried I’d be talking to myself during this, and I’m glad that didn’t happen. 🙂

    • Jeanne 6:54 am on September 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      So many people have been conditioned to accept the authority of a professor relatively unquestioningly, especially when he’s preaching the gospel of multiculturalism. But be cautious. The Historical Notes are a satire on academic detachment, a warning against what can happen when you try to be objective. How long does it take you to detach yourself from the horrified feelings that Offred’s story stirs up and go back to a knee-jerk “just because a culture is different doesn’t make it bad” stance? It should take longer than it does. Much longer–that’s why there are so many references to slavery and Nazis in the novel.

    • jennygirl 3:18 pm on September 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Oh my answer is so long. I answered every question, so here goes:

      “Better never means better for everyone”

      The society in the book is better for those in charge, because they have all the power. They can say and do what they please, enforce rules when they like, it’s a totalitarian society.

      I’m sure there are some people who like the new rules, like the religious persons who helped to build the new society. They probably believe they were doing the right thing for society, saving souls and people, etc. They have their reasons, whether I think they are right or wrong. Different strokes for different folks.

      “We were both feeling miserable. How were we to know we were happy, even then.”

      Things can always be worse. You may be feeling crappy now, but you could always feel more crappy. Life can change on a whim and you need to be prepared.

      Offred’s motivations

      I think Offred had several reasons for recording her story. Firstly, it was a type of therapy, to get it all out there, to speak about what happened to her. Not only because she wasn’t allowed to speak when it was occurring, but because she finally had a voice and hopefully someone would find these tapes and help fix the situation.
      Offred was reclaiming her own voice.

      “we must be cautious about passing moral judgment upon the Gildeadeans” …Is objectivity really necessary when studying the Gileadeans?

      I would like to answer these two questions together, because I instantly think of the anthropological theory of cultural relativity. When one studies a culture, you do not judge that culture based on your own reasons or societal standards. Actually you don’t judge the culture at all. One studies it, reports on it, and tries to learn from it, from it’s own point of view.

      The Handmaid’s Tale took place over 150 years ago. We didn’t live then, we don’t know what it was really like, so how can we say what they did was right or wrong for the situation at that that time. Hearing this story years later, well yes, I have a different opinion, but there are two sides to every story. If the environment and situation really were that bad, then maybe someone or group had to take the situation in hand. If the people of the time were not savvy enough to realize what was going on, well then there is nothing one can do now. Almost like a perfect storm of events.

      For example, Hitler coming into power, the Holocaust, WWII, there were lots of little warning signs and things that happened to cause the situation. It wasn’t one thing that happened. It started at the end of WW I with the reparations Germany had to pay. Their economy couldn’t handle it, people became desperate, and it took very little for a crazy person to take control and gain all the power. The situation snowballed, and the rest is history. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, I realize that, but history does repeat itself. We must learn from past mistakes.

      What did you think of The Handmaid’s Tale as a whole, etc?
      I enjoyed the Handmaid’s Tale immensely, and am so sorry I didn’t read it until now. This book makes me think about the world we live in now, and how it wouldn’t take much to turn our world and life upside down. Let me tell you though, if I wake up one day, and the government is wiped out in a single terrorist attack, you best believe my ass in a car on my way up north to Canada. I am not sitting in my house waiting to hear what I should do next. I am an optimist, but I am no fool. I will take my chances on trying to get out of the country, one way or the other, and if I die trying, so be it.

      Yes, I may sound like a conspiracy theorist or crack pot, but I think it’s about being aware of your surroundings and what your government is doing. I don’t trust everything I see or read. I gather the information and try to make an informed opinion. We do have a lot of freedoms in America, I know that. But we also have a responsibility to uphold that freedom, and hold our government responsible for answering to we the people. I don’t think the average American does a very good job of this. Sorry, but I don’t, not when I see that most people are more interested in the Kardashians or what is more fashionable right now, skinny jeans or tights. How about going out to vote or understanding what is going in Congress right now? Just saying, look around at people…what do think would happen if Offred’s world came to life right now?

      And one more morsel for thought: The American Revolution was started by a small group of gentlemen, mostly landowners and merchants becuase they felt the English taxes the most. The majority of the colonists were not interested, or not fully aware of what was going on. However, if Redcoats start shooting at you, you are going to shoot back. Basically, it wouldn’t take much to start a revolution or uprising. Be prepared my friends!

      • Jeanne 8:55 am on September 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Jennygirl, you make some good points about being aware (which remind me of Bruno Bettelman’s famous essay about why Anne Frank’s family should have heeded the warning signs). Your reaction is intellectual, though, which is one thing I see Atwood warning us against. When we read about (or worse, watch the video on YouTube) the atrocities happening right now, today, against women in the middle east, we’re supposed to use those feelings of horror to change the world, not just to calmly sit back and assess when it might affect us.

        • jennygirl 7:20 am on October 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Hi Jeanne, do you mean the cultural relativism aspect of my answer? Hadn’t thought of my reaction as being intellectual. I agree there are major atrocities being conducted as we speak, and no I don’t agree with them, but I also don’t believe in going into someone’s else’s country and culture and telling them they are wrong. Especially in terms of the middle east, because much of that is entwined with religion, and that brings another persepctive into focus. Whose religion is right, mine or yours?
          I would advocate working with organizations to help women who want to escape, but to try and make wholesale changes to a country or people….I can’t agree with that. Especially not when you consider the issues we have at home that must be addressed.

          I understand what you are saying. I think we represent different points of view.

          • Jeanne 8:08 am on October 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

            jennygirl, yes, I meant the cultural relativism is an intellectual reaction. I think the Historical Notes are an attempt to not let the readers step back from the horrors they’ve experienced, but to let their first, gut reactions determine how they want the story to end.
            I never buy the argument that we can’t go to outer space or help women who are being publicly flogged for running away with their 16-year-old boyfriends because we have issues in our own country. Certainly there’s no point in arguing about religion, but religions have caused evil, and when we turn our heads from that, evil can win. Since Atwood uses the two indisputable examples of what we all now consider bad cultures–the slaveowning south and Nazi Germany–I feel free to cite the Inquisition and the Crusades.

    • Jo-Jo 6:44 pm on September 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Was this society better for anyone? I don’t think so. If for some reason some people thought they were benefiting from this society they must have forgotten about-or just blocked out of their minds- all of the injustices that were being committed. How does one live knowing these things are being done to helpless individuals?

      What was her motivation to record the activities? I think her recording everything was actually an outlet for her to deal with the current situation. When there are uncontrollable events we need to find a way to accept these things and still try to lead a normal life.

      As far as the objectivity goes…I agree with what Jennygirl has to say!

      What did I think of The Handmaid’s Tale? I loved it! I’ve heard so much about this book from one of my other book loving friends and I can’t believe I haven’t read it until now. I really didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did but I kept finding myself amazed as I got deeper into the book. It really did scare me as to how society can change so quickly. To think that the Constitution was even dissolved! That is scary stuff but this book just shows me how easily it can happen.

      Thanks for leading us Trish and don’t worry about posting late…happens to the best of us!

      How did they know they were happy? Many of us have rough times throughout our lives but I think it’s always important to remember things could always be worse.

      • jennygirl 7:23 am on October 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        ” I kept finding myself amazed as I got deeper into the book”
        Me too Jo-Jo! It was such a compelling story, and the pages just flew by.

    • Melissa 8:05 am on September 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Was this society better for anyone?

      I agree with Jo-Jo. I think that in the end it wasn’t better for anyone. You’d think it would be better for those in power, but as we saw from the Commander, he wasn’t happy and he lived his life in fear.

      I also think that even if you look at the Gileadeans objectively, everything they did was still wrong. You can try to justify what they did, but even while playing Devil’s advocate they look bad.

      Overall I absolutely loved The Handmaid’s Tale. It was sad, haunting and terrifyingly close to our society before it turned. I’m so glad I read it. Thank you for hosting the read along!

    • Frankie 6:52 pm on September 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      1. Was this society better for anyone? I think the aunts were the only ones who liked their jobs. But as a whole no one was happy. These people are trying to escape either physically,or through suicide,drugs,porn or violence. anything to feel better

      2 Offred’s motives. Initally, I thought it was to say everything she thought outloud. But I do think it’s for the future generations to be alert. Her life was as an independent, educated, money making woman,wife and mother. All of it was taken away. If it happened to her then it can happen to you.
      3. Objectivity- I agree with Jennygirl and Jeanne.
      4. Did I like it? Yes, more because I read it with other people.

      • jennygirl 7:24 am on October 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        The Aunts really did love their jobs, didn’t they? Forgot about that.

        I also enjoyed reading it with other people. Made me think and consider other points of view.

    • jennygirl 9:33 am on October 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Trish you did an excellent job of moderating! Sometimes life gets in the way.
      No apologies needed to me 🙂

    • Lisa 10:44 am on October 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I don’t think that anyone was better off in this society. In time like this when there is clearly a ruling class and such a strict set of rules for living life, there is always the fear that those below will revolt, that someone will turn on you and you will lose everything, that you may just make a wrong choice. I think the Commander was probably always watching his back. When they went to the club, which was clearly sanctioned, there were still rules that had to be observed.

      I agree with jennygirl–we need to always look back at the people who developed societies with an objective eye, taking into account the environment in which that society developed. In this book, it sounds like things had really gotten bad any way, nuclear accidents and earthquakes. Things will have to change when terrible things like that happen. Were the best choices made? Probably not. Did the people who ended up ruling do it strictly for the good of the people? Of course not; there is always an element of greed and ambition in these situations. They seized on the situation as an opportunity for themselves, just as Hitler and Stalin did.

      I’m so glad I finally read this book. It really has me thinking and I’m now telling everyone who hasn’t read it that they really need to read it. Thanks, Trish, for moderating and for giving us such great questions to discuss!

  • trish 10:04 pm on September 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Handmaid’s Tale, Sections IX – X, Discussion 2 

    Just a couple of more questions to continue the discussion. I’m totally loving this!

    When Offred flashes back to pre-Gilead, it appears as if the takeover was easy. In fact, Luke didn’t even seem bothered by the fact that Offred can’t own money and can’t have a job anymore. He tells her he’ll always take care of her. He also tells her it would be ‘futile’ to go to the marches. Why do you think he’s so complacent?

    When Offred asked the Commander about what happened to the previous girl:

    “Serena found out,” he says, as if this explains it. And it does.

    What is the Commander referring to?

    • Lisa 10:33 pm on September 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think part of the reason that Luke was so complacent was that he couldn’t yet conceive of everything that might happen but I also wondered if he didn’t really feel that effected by what had happened.

      As for the previous girl, I’m thinking that Offred is not the first Handmaid that the Commander had approached to spend time with him. Given what we know about Serena, I’m sure that the consequences were not good for the previous Handmaid.

    • Jeanne 10:05 am on September 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’d really like to know how Luke could be so complacent. As if y’all can’t tell, I’m the kind of person who flares up and rushes off to fight battles all the time, so I don’t understand people who sit home and watch the news on tv, waiting to be told that it’s all fine now. Of course, Luke wasn’t directly affected. He’s like a WWII-era German watching his Jewish neighbors disappear and believing whatever makes him feel better about where they’ve gone.

      Serena helped make the rules of Gilead, which include no fraternizing (good word) between members of the opposite sex, especially between Handmaids and Commanders. That’s one of the crowning ironies of the novel–that she said women should stay home and now, as Offred observes, she’s gotten what she wanted and doesn’t seem to like it very much. Atwood has said she was modeled on Phyllis Schlafly.

      • Jeanne 2:23 pm on September 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I was thinking about this some more, and realized that I said I rush off to fight battles “all the time,”but that’s not entirely true. Like all of us, I get caught up in the daily events of my life and don’t make the time to react to everything I really should react to.

        Making the time to read should make us all more sensitive to that, though!

      • trish 11:02 pm on September 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I looked up Phyllis Schlafly, and oh boy what a nut job. But you know, it’s people like her that become popular when the economy is down, when things are depressed. Seems like you get the worst leaders when people are scared.

    • Frankie 7:25 pm on September 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      My first reaction to Luke’s response was, “He knows what’s coming down the line” Here he has a woman and a child so enjoy it. But my true feeling is that he didn’t think it was anything that would last. He underestimated the strength of the army and the changes they were imposing. Everybody did.

      I think the Commander knew that the good times couldn’t last too long, infact they never did. the previous girl is proof. The wives seem to have the most control the men are still being bad little boys and take advantage of the handmaidens til the wife catches them in the act. Then it’s on to a new handmaiden. I do not have any empathy for the comander or the wives.

    • Melissa 10:27 am on September 12, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think Luke was reluctant to do anything for two reasons. I think he didn’t want to draw attention to himself and “Offred” and in doing so, put their lives on the line. But I also think a big reason why he didn’t stand up is because he wasn’t the one having his rights removed. I’m sure he thought he understood everything that was happening, but just like the Germans who did nothing when Jews were being taken away, he may have felt bad for them, but he wasn’t being persecuted. Offred lost her job and her privileges, he hadn’t lost anything at that point. By the time his privileges were being taken away it was too late.

    • Jo-Jo 9:31 am on September 13, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with a couple of other’s responses pertaining to Luke’s complacency. Since he was a man he didn’t have much to lose, but I also believe that he didn’t think this new way of life was going to last very long.

      As far as the commander goes…he was obviously caught playing ‘Scrabble’ with the previous handmaid! lol Jeanne indicated that Serena helped to make the new rules and I guess I didn’t realize that…I must have missed that somewhere along the line unless I just haven’t read that far yet.

  • trish 10:04 am on September 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Handmaid’s Tale, Sections IX – X, Discussion 1 

    After the first time Offred plays Scrabble with the Commander, she says, “To be asked to play Scrabble, instead, as if we were an old married couple, or two children, seemed kinky in the extreme, a violation in its own way.” Why would playing a game seem kinky when they’ve only recently copulated in a most bizarre way?

    Isn’t it interesting that the way they try to have babies seems really awkward, but it’s not until Offred gets to know the Commander that she becomes uncomfortable? “He was no longer a thing to me. That was the problem….It complicates.”

    What does it say about this society that they have machines that pray for them?

    In Chapter 28 we see how the Constitution is taken away. Why didn’t people protest more? What similarities can you draw to things going on today? (We’ve briefly talked about this, such as how we’ve changed the procedure to board an airplane, but can you think of anything else?)

    • Lisa 4:10 pm on September 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      As far as the Scrabble feeling kinky, it is now as forbidden as sex for love so doing it is doing something that others would disapprove of.

      Oh my, that Chapter 28 had me with my jaw dropped open in amazement most of the chapter! It was almost as if Atwood had a crystal ball that could see into the future. At the time this book was written, I doubt that anyone could have imagined that the army might ever take over the government because of a fear of Islam. Now that’s very much within the realm of possibility. Already, the phone companies have allowed the government full access to our phone records and the courts have allowed that so that the government can look for terrorists amongst us. And when this book first came out, ATMs were only just showing up every where but there was no such thing as a debit card. Now you can use debit cards almost everywhere–it’s not such a stretch to imagine doing away with paper money altogether.

      • Jen - Devourer of Books 7:00 am on September 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I had the exact same response the first time I read it a few years ago, Lisa. That was in the days of ‘you either agree with us, or you’re unAmerican,’ too, so it seemed especially possible.

    • Jeanne 4:25 pm on September 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      In a 2003 interview entitled “Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale is back in public eye,” Deborah C Rybak, the interviewer, says “given that her chilling premise was challenged by some critics when the book came out, one might expect the author to be feeling some vindication” and Atwood says “I don’t! I don’t like being right…I take this stuff seriously. You write a book like this so people will disprove it in advance. They’ll read it and say ‘Let’s not go there.'”

      What scares me most about how the Gileadeans took over are the things Offred remembers about it:
      “I thought I should do something, take steps; but I didn’t know what steps I could take.”
      “There were marches, of course, a lot of women and some men. But they were smaller than you might have thought. I guess people were scared. And when it was known that the police or the army or whoever they were, would open fire almost as soon as any of the marches even started, the marches stopped.”
      “I’m sure it’s temporary.”

      Students who are politically conservative usually come into their own at this stage of the discussion, pointing out that the right to bear arms is an important Constitutional right.

    • Melissa 7:21 am on September 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      This section changed everything for me. It was fascinating to hear more about the time “before.” It’s really shocking how quickly it all changed. It makes you wonder, what would you do if your debit/credit cards didn’t work one day. Then you lost your job and found out you couldn’t get another one.

      There was something so sad about the shift in dependence between Offred and Luke. “We are not each other’s, anymore. Instead, I am his.” Offred is denied any hope of independence from that point on and it’s easy to see how things could have spiraled out of control from there.

      I agree with you guys too, the references to “plastic cards” and gov’t control are so close to home. That, “temporary” line was chilling. Atwood is pretty brilliant.

    • Coffee and a Book Chick 8:10 am on September 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      To play a game with someone who she wasn’t supposed to be with behind closed doors who is only supposed to breed with, no matter how harmless a game it was, is enough to cross that line in this society. It re-opens the doors into a world in which people have that choice, the rights, it becomes gray and in this world, black and white is the only way to be.

      It is interesting how once she begins to know him personally, the sex act becomes so unusual, and she begins to notice that she hasn’t shaved her legs — when he almost touched her face, I got nervous for her and for them both!

      Ahh…the praying machines. That part freaked me out by far. I mean, it really doesn’t seem so crazy of a thought right now — I can really envision people either dialing it up on their cell phones, or texting it to get a prayer a day, or something like that! Technology is incredible, but sometimes I think it’s evolved faster than what we can really handle or conceptualize.

      When the Constitution was suspended, it made my skin crawl. Boarding airplanes is the biggest difference right now, and what scares me is that I can’t think of anything else right now — and I wonder if it’s because there isn’t anything to note on things changing, or if it’s happened, and I’m just used to it??

      • Jeanne 9:34 am on September 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Coffee and a Book Chick–I think a number of things have happened and we’re used to them, or we don’t make a fuss because they seem like such small changes. At my kids’ public high school, the assistant principal and a committee made up of parents have been trying to get the dress code changed to what they call (an Orwellian term for uniforms) “standardized dress.” They’ve already managed to make it so my daughter can’t wear shorts or skirts by requiring them to be knee-length (she’s 5’10” so nothing goes all the way to her knees). Some other parents have joined me in being concerned about this as a trend, but no one else showed up at the August school board meeting at which I protested he dress code changes, saying I thought the wording of the current rules (“no sexually provocative clothing”) could eventually lead to the requirement that all the girls wear burqas. It’s already out of control, but no one’s protesting when teachers send high school girls to “time out” (they miss class) for showing cleavage.

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 12:16 pm on September 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Jeanne, hmm, that could be quite an example o The Handmaid’s Tale, that’s for sure. I mean, I understand that sometimes kids nowadays can be incredibly risque with their clothing and that it may not be appropriate in a school environment, but it certainly makes it a very gray line with the term “sexually provocative clothing.” That’s really not very specific, and almost completely up for individual interpretation, which can be completely frightening!

          • Jeanne 10:11 am on September 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply

            I think we should be way more frightened of the attempts to make high school students conform to what we think is “appropriate” than of the bad clothing choices they (especially some of the girls) make on their own. I know there are parents who flutter their hands helplessly about skirt length, for instance, and want the school to do their job for them, forbidding the girls to wear such skanky stuff.

            In the real world, what’s “appropriate” for any place is enforced through whether you get or keep a job, or the comments people make about what you wear.
            What I didn’t say well is how especially creepy it is for a 17-year-old girl to be subject to the whims of a 50-year-old male teacher about whether she’s showing too much cleavage or not.

            The cheerleaders are no longer allowed to wear their uniforms to school! They were all called to the office the first time they wore them last fall. It’s just ridiculous.

            Also there is one documented case of a guy who wore soccer shorts under his jeans and the jeans had a hole in the knee. He was required to take the jeans off and wear the shorts. (??!)

    • Michele@A Reader's Respite 9:45 am on September 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      The prayer machines elicited a big eye-roll from me….only because as in most cases where greedy/power-hungry humans make a bid for power, I didn’t for a moment believe those in power in The Handmaid’s Tale really believed in the “religion” that brought them to power. It’s just an excuse for the masses. (I just re-read what I wrote…does that make sense at all?)

      Just like preying on the fear of terrorism or Islam is an excuse for the gov’t to take away freedoms. Personally, I get the heebie-jeevies everytime some dumb congressman brings up constitutional amendments. I just don’t like the idea of messing of that document, lol.

      De-personalization (is there such a word?) is such an important part of the novel. Everything personal has been taken away (including their names, the sex rituals, etc) in this world. The trick to this powerplay working for those who want control is to get the masses to believe that it is in their best interest. That’s why the post 9/11 things worked so well here….we were/are a country who is scared. We live in a very insulated world here in North America (by virtue of it’s geography) and don’t have a lot of exposure to other cultures….so it’s easy to make us afraid of other cultures. It’s not just airtravel: we allow the government to listen to our phone conversations (sure, they’re only supposed to be listening for terrorist catch phrases, but who enforces this? It’s like the fox guarding the hen house), the immigration issue, etc, etc.

      It’s a slippery slope and hard to know when the gov’t has gone “too far.” Usually by the time we figure it out, it’s too late.

    • Jo-Jo 4:01 pm on September 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      When they have their moments alone together, whether it’s playing Scrabble or just reading a magazine, the Commander is allowing Offred to be a human rather than just a birthing vessel. Feelings and emotions have to do with a lot of these questions from this part of the book. By having the machines do the praying you are not embarking on your own personal relationship with God.

      As far as our Constitution goes, I’m hoping I don’t offend anyone, but let me apologize now if I do. Our country was built on Christianity and little by little it is being removed from our government. Maybe some would argue that by having a Christian based government we are trying to make all conform to our religion, but I guess I have never thought of it that way. There are going to always be different religions, faiths, and practices, and I guess I have always thought of Christianity as being the foundation of our country.

    • Frankie 7:18 pm on September 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I thought playing Scrabble was almost like foreplay for the Commander. Offred got to see him relaxed and playful and she was the same. But once back to sex it was a role she had to play(no intimacy ) inorder to survive.
      The prayer machine-just replaced the blah blah blah a person of the clothe does. A more efficient uses of time and people.
      The question about why people didn’t protest more had me thinking hard. Despite all I know about gov/miltary cover-ups I still have a strong fundamental belief that our country and the miltary are good(go figure). I’m still thinking of those who fought in previous wars,The Greatest Generation, I think if u told me the army killed the president /congress I would have a hard time(atleast initally) to believe or protest. Maybe the people in the book felt this way and by time they realized this is all very real it was too late to protest.

      • Jeanne 9:59 am on September 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        But it wasn’t “the” U.S. army; it was “some other army,” meaning Gilead’s. This is where the gun rights people have a field day in the discussion!

  • trish 10:30 pm on September 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Handmaid’s Tale, Sections V-VIII, Discussion 1 

    Sorry about slacking on the questions on Monday! Just when you think life can’t get any crazier, it does. I’m back on track now, though!

    I only have a few questions this week:

    In Chapter 17, why do you think Offred wanted to steal something?

    Also in Chapter 17, Offred says she wants ‘to be held and told my name.’ Then in Chapter 18 Offred says, ‘…nobody dies from a lack of sex. It’s a lack of love we die from.’ What do you think the government gained by giving everyone new names and apparently outlawing touching?

    What do you think of the mating ritual? At first I thought how humiliating that must be for Offred, but then I thought that it must be doubly humiliating for the Commander and Serena Joy. What is the purpose of mating this way?

    If you have questions you want to ask, or observations you want to make outside of the questions I’ve posed, please don’t hesitate!

    • Jeanne 8:38 am on September 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      You call the government-mandated sex act a “mating ritual.” In my classes, we often discuss whether it’s actually government-sponsored rape. Offred says there isn’t anything going on that she didn’t sign up for, but she had no other choice, except torture and death–probably by becoming an “unwoman” and being sent to the “colonies.”

      • trish 3:35 pm on September 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I hadn’t thought about it as rape, but you’re right, she doesn’t *really* have a choice.

    • Alyce 3:32 pm on September 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      The mating ritual takes something that had been a joyful expression of love (in most cases anyway) and turns it into something mechanical. It is another way of controlling the people, of taking away as much freedom as they can. There are no opportunities in that mating ritual for love or feelings, for any sort of bond to form between the man and the girl because the wife is there. I see it as their way of securing the situation so that there can be no “affair.” That being said, I like the juxtaposition of that scene against the forbidden game of scrabble.

      • trish 3:36 pm on September 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        You’re right, Alyce, it’s a way to control. And this way they can control everyone, both the men and the women. What a humiliating act for everyone involved.

    • Frankie 7:14 pm on September 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Human petri dish was the thought that came to my mind. This gov. values babies and has stripped the act of conceiving down to the bare essentials.
      I think Offred wants to steal because she(or is it me) is angry. They take from me,I take from them.
      She wants to feel something and she wants to hurt them somehow but not enough to be punished.
      What does the gov. have to gain with the new names and no touching? I thought that the gov. is trying to breed a select( maybe superior) race. Touching leads to feeling leads to warm and fuzzy thoughts. Next thing you know the Marthas etc… will get carried away.

    • Lisa 8:58 pm on September 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I feel like the benefit to the government of taking away touching is to take away the support that people derive from one another. That support will serve to make the individual stronger–definitely not something that this government wants. The stripping of the names struck me as a way to emphasize that the handmaids are nothing more than property. They are merely a vessel for bearing the commanders children, hence they are named “Of….” as in “property of….”

      Ack–that sex ceremony! Almost painful to read. So difficult for everyone involved. The poor wife has to lie there, knowing that she can’t give her husband the most valuable thing there is. The handmaid has to lie there and have this done to her but with the effect of merely a part of the wife. I even felt sorry for the commander; this is as much a duty for him as it is for the others. Each of commanders must feel tremendous pressure to repopulate the country.

      • 1girl2manybooks 6:55 pm on September 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I found the sex ceremony really uncomfortable to read also! It was so awkward for everyone involved! Humiliating and embarrassing! From each perspective – the uterus for hire, the barren wife, the man who has to impregnate another woman -in front- of his wife! I see it as a kind of passive rape – rape in that she doesn’t really give her consent but she knows that resisting is not an option

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 8:12 am on September 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          I agree — so disturbing! And for the Commander’s Wife to be laying their with Offred’s head on her…you know?? So disturbing!!

    • Jo-Jo 8:21 am on September 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think she wanted to steal something was a way for Offred to show that she still does have feelings and no matter how hard they try, they will never be able to control her completely.

      The outlawing of the touching was just another way for the government to control who exactly was special enough to bring children into the world. Like Frankie said…Touching leads to feelings, and things could get out of the government’s control if the population started letting their feelings get the best of them.

      As far as the mating ritual goes…Wow! I can see the embarassment for everyone involved, even the spectators. The purpose is obviously repopulation through an unemotional act. I don’t even know what else to say about that…yikes!

    • Melissa 1:18 pm on September 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      During the sex ceremony I couldn’t believe the wife is there for the whole thing. That’s so much more degrading for everyone involved. It’s literally like the handmaid isn’t even a real person, just a uterus that stands in for the wife.

      A few other things that I thought were particularly disturbing…

      -Aunt Lydia’s comment :For our purposes your hands and feet are not essential.”

      -Also, Offred saving the butter and using it as lotion. “As long as we do this, butter our skin to keep it soft, we can believe that we will some day get out, that we will be touched again, in love or desire.” It’s this small act of rebellion breed from a spark of hope, which made it both heartbreaking and encouraging.

      Moira’s whole story was hard to read. It’s held up almost as a cautionary tale to the other women, but for Offred it’s something that helps her survive. She can imagine that Moira has made it, so there’s hope for her as well.

      Aunt Lydia’s description of future generations is a bit too accurate for comfort. She says they won’t have such a hard time with their duties because they don’t know what they’re giving up. They have no memory of any other way. It makes you realize how quickly a society can take a turn for the worst. Soon people don’t know what they’re suppose to be fighting for.

  • trish 10:53 am on August 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Handmaid’s Tale, Sections I-IV, Discussion 2 

    Sorry I’m a little late getting this posted!

    I read all the comments to the previous discussion thread, and I want to play a little devil’s advocate.

    In talking about freedom from, isn’t there a certain amount of comfort in that? Certainly, freedom from can have its benefits. For example, some people who go to prison want to stay in prison partly for the freedom from. And isn’t that one of the benefits of a burqa? Freedom from leering men? So before we dismiss the time during The Handmaid’s Tale as undesirable, let’s talk about the benefits of freedom from.

    The other thing I wanted to explore more is whether censorship is okay. The women in The Handmaid’s Tale were burning pornography, something that is often talked about as repressive. I’m sure when the women burned the magazines, they felt freer. If censoring makes you feel freer, how do you know when/if it’s wrong?

    You could combine the two questions and ask why might more restrictions would make people feel freer.

    • Daenel 9:12 pm on August 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think “freedom from” can be liberating. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the women knew they were going to be protected (no rape, no leering, etc). There wasn’t the fear of walking down a dark alley, there was also liberation from idealized beauty. No magazines pushing the image of tall, skinny blonde as beautiful, etc.

      As far as censorship, I don’t like hate speech and wish that could be banned. If we could eliminate hate speech, wouldn’t that bring about a certain degree of freedom?

    • Alyce 10:54 am on August 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think that rules in general give people a sense of comfort in knowing what to expect. The more rules you have, the less chance there is that you will be surprised by something unpleasant, and of course this gets taken to extremes in most dystopian books.

      With censorship, it seems to be a matter of degrees. Complete freedom from censorship would mean that anyone could be exploited – men, women and children. Yet once censorship takes place, there has to be a line drawn, and I think in this day and age the line gets drawn in a place that we see as protective – mainly protecting those who are underage and can’t protect themselves from being exploited.

      So, yes I can see how the members of the society in The Handmaid’s Tale could see that freedom from as an extra protection – a way of keeping the people from being exploited at the cost of their personal freedom. It still makes me uncomfortable though.

    • Michele@A Reader's Respite 9:52 am on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Censorship is akin to legislating morality. I don’t think it’s possible. Example: like Daenel, I have huge problems with any kind of hate speech. But if it were censored, who would decide what constitutes “hate speech”? What if their definition differed from mine? And would it stop people who engage in hate speech from doing so? I doubt it. So in the end, we all are less free.

      I think restrictions simply make people feel safer. A world full of rules is a structured one in which one knows what to expect. People/societies censor what scares them. So censorship gives a false sense of security….they perceive that living in a society where things that that scare them are forbidden means that those things do not exist.

    • Heather 8:17 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Wow Trish, you know how to ask tough questions! I agree with Daenel. “Freedom from” can be liberating. I can’t imagine allowing my children to play outside with out someone out there with them, something I did practically every day at their age. I don’t like to go into the city at night. The world of THT does make me very uncomfortable though!

      As for censorship, as a mother, I do think it has it’s place. But ONLY in that I have the right to censor material that I do not think my children are ready for. When they are ready however, I would not keep it from them. However, I certainly do not think I have the power, nor do I want it!, to censor material for anyone else.

    • Lisa 8:21 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think the idea that “freedom from” is something that has a certain appeal is part of what makes dystopian literature so frightening. It’s easier to imagine something could happen if you can see the at least some of the benefits of a government that oversees everything.

      I can remember when the fight about labeling music was raging. “”Censorship” the critics argued. I didn’t have children at the time and was livid that some bureaucracy was going to make decisions that might effect what young people could listen to. Boy did my opinion change once I had children–I loved having labels on movies, music and video games that would allow me to decide what I wanted my children to watch, play or listen to. Now I don’t really consider that censorship–but I know there are still people that do.

    • trish 8:27 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      That’s exactly it, Lisa. Freedom from definitely has an appeal. When I read they were burning pornography, I could see that happening and being something that people found reasonable. That’s what makes books like THT so scary, that you see that people allow things to be taken away that are easy to let go, not realizing it’s a slippery slope.

    • Frankie 9:27 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I can’t seem to wrap my mind around rules and restrictions giving me/people freedom from. For example, religion. They all come with an extensive list of rules and practices. But it’s a rare individual who keeps all the rules. Why? because we don’t like them, they are too rigid etc…
      Now I do see where censorship could make a person safer/freer but like you say Trish, it’s a slippery slope

    • Jo-Jo 8:04 am on August 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      That’s a great question Trish, and I wouldn’t have thought of it myself but you are so right in that there is definitely a freedom ‘from’. We are given so many freedoms, through choices and decisions that we make on a daily basis that we sometimes commit ourselves in ways that we don’t find enjoyable. Our society in general is overextended financially because many of us spend money we don’t have, in turn having to work extra hours or jobs. With everything being so technologically advanced many individuals believe they can have anything they want right now, not giving us the chance to make a sound decision. So it seems to me that we have a double-edged sword, with more freedoms we allow ourselves more commitments, which in the end results in less freedom when it comes to time and money.

    • Katy 2:07 pm on August 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I have a hard time with censoring and restrictions–especially since we can institute our own restrictions and censoring without the action of the government. I’d much rather see people take personal action in their own lives than expect the government to legislate morality and dictate to us what is acceptable and what is not. As Michele mentioned, what if the people in charge have a much different concept of what is acceptable than I do? I feel like it’s better to have very little censorship to prevent going down a slippery slope toward overzealousness.

    • Jeanne 7:04 pm on August 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      One of the many games I see Atwood playing with her readers is putting an Orwellian phrase like “freedom from” in her character’s (Aunt Lydia’s) mouth. Of course it’s comforting to be protected from some things, but that’s not really freedom. The character is twisting the idea by misusing the word.

  • trish 11:25 pm on August 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Handmaid’s Tale, Sections I-IV, Discussion 1 

    Welcome! I hope you all are enjoying The Handmaid’s Tale. I was a little worried that my love for it was an anomaly, but I read this first section in one sitting (I had to empty the bath and add hotter water, but I did it!), which is a big achievement for me these days! I’m really looking forward to discussing this. I don’t think a page went by that I didn’t mark something.

    These first few questions come from Jeanne from Necromancy Never Pays. She’s taught this book quite a few times and had some great suggestions for questions.

    Aunt Lydia says, “In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.” (24).  Freedom from what?

    Why didn’t people protest more when their rights were taken away?

    Why does Offred tell the interpreter for the group of Japanese tourists that she is very happy as a handmaid?

    Is any symbolism jumping out at you yet?

    Did anyone else look up ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’? What do you think it means?

    What did you think of the scene where the mom takes the daughter to the book burning for the pornography? Is it ever okay to censor?

    More questions will be forthcoming on Thursday, August 26th.

    • Heather 7:30 am on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Firstly, I must say as I was the one so terrified of reading Margaret Atwood, that I surprisingly LOVE this book. Jen casually asked me yesterday if I had started it yet and, well, no, I hadn’t! I kept putting it off. So, like you Trish!, I got in the bathtub with it. Next thing I knew MY water was cold and I’d killed 6 chapters. However, I got out, but I kept reading. It’s just so good!

      Freedoms… Freedom from decision? Freedom from control? It seems that all of Offred’s decisions are made for her. She knows what is expected of her and she does it. She has no choice; it’s either obey or die.

      I think they didn’t protest because they were afraid. There are daily reminders of what will happen to them if they step out of line with the hangings and the men with guns. For this same reason, Offred tells the interpreter’s she’s happy. She says that the interpreters are often Eyes, so she has to say she’s happy for fear of it getting back to whomever that she said she wasn’t.

      Not yet, but I’ve never been very good at picking up symbolism in a first reading.

      I looked up that phrase and found a website that says it is Dog Latin, and it means “Do not let the bastards grind you down.” http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Margaret_Atwood

      I am horrified by that scene! While I can understand censoring material inappropriate for children (but only until they are old enough to understand it and feel that is my job as a mother) I cannot abide censoring material for other people OR allowing children to see such a thing.

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:22 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Good point on an Eye being the interpreter — I forgot about that! That would make perfect sense on why she answered that way!

        I’m also really excited to read this book — I’ve been meaning to read Margaret Atwood for years, but this is my first time reading her, so it has become a real treat!

      • Daenel 10:08 am on August 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I love this book and I’ve tried to read other Margaret Atwood’s but I think the symbolism was over my head or I was just too young to get it. I will try again once I’m finished with this one.

    • Frankie 2:09 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Oh good heavens! It’s still summer and my brain has to work.
      I am enjoying this book so far in a WTF way.

      1. I took Aunt Lydia’s reference to “time of anarchy” as a time when they had a goverment that was”by the people, for the people.” A time when they chose what to read,what career they wanted and who they wished to have sex with. Freedom to make decisions for themselves. Even unpopular, or wrong decisions. Now they don’t have to make those decisions. They are free from those decisions.

      2. I think people do protest for their rights. They choose their battles and their methods. Passive aggression goes along way.

      3. Survival. If Offred tells the truth who is going to help her? The girl needs a plan first before she speaks the truth.

      4. Symbolism? Red for menstrual blood?

      5. The mother and daughter scene reminded me of Nazi Germany. In the end nothing good comes from censorship. It’s the job of a parent to censor with explanations and reason while a child is young but not the job of a gov.

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:26 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        “…in a WTF way.” LOL – I am, too! I can’t even believe what I’m reading!

        You are so spot on about the passive aggression going a long way — truly, sitting back and not saying anything (maybe hoping someone else will?), makes a person so complacent. I mean, it’s kind of like that part where it’s mentioned that everyone becomes usual, and even right now, the world that Offred lives in, is just “normal” to them now. Being passive-aggressive can certainly “change” the world — at leas in the sense that no one does anything when they see something wrong, even in the smallest sense of the word.

      • Daenel 10:12 am on August 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        “…in a WTF way.” Priceless! LOL

        As a librarian and veteran the whole idea of censorship worries me. Whether you agree with the idea, book, thought, whatever, censorship is wrong.

        Both of you are so dead on when you talk about passive aggressiveness and complacency, that is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany when good people sat back and waited for someone else to do/say something.

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 8:57 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Exactly — making sure to speak up to even the tiniest of transgressions may seem embarrassing to some people, but it really is the only way to make sure that the “ultimate” line, whatever that may be, isn’t eventually crossed by the small steps that can sometimes be taken every day.

    • Karen 2:41 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I am so glad I chose to pick this book up again. I’ve mentioned this before – I have been completely intimiated by this book several times. This time was totally different! I could have probably read the whole book in one sitting – I restrained myself to participate in the discussion. I attribute this to having the read-a-long and knowing we would discuss the book a bit at a time. Makes all the difference in the world! Anyways, here are my thoughts so far:

      1. I agree with Frankie and would add that I think Aunt Lydia is implying that women (or perhaps society?) sort of ‘blew’ their chance at free thinking – like free- thinking led to anarchy so now we’ve all lost the ability to think for ourselves – someone governs our thoughs for us now. The phrase coming to mind is “You want to act like a baby, I’ll treat you like one!” And Aunt Lydia has obviously been taught (brainwashed) into believing that it’s better for society all the way around.

      2. Do we really know how much they did protest? I didn’t get a good feel for that – perhaps more of the ‘anarchy’ times will be revealed in further chapters?

      3. Again, I agree with Frankie – lying to the Japanese tourists was about survival. It may be as simple as there is punishment for speaking against this lifestyle.

      4. I am terrible at symbolism! I did notice some references to ‘views’ – view from her window, view of the wife’s feet, view restricted by the wings of her head covering…If I had to take that as symbolic – it would be that her view of the world is being controlled for her.

      5. I had to look up the actual definition of censor: : to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable . I agree with a parent’s right to censor on behalf of their children, but I do not agree with the government censoring on behalf of it’s people.

      Whew…I’ve restrained myself for long enough – now I can read the next part!

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:29 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I’ve never done a read-along, so this is definitely fun! Although I am trying not to read further than I want to — it’s such a good book!!

        I agree with you, I don’t think we got a good sense of any protesting that actually occurred, at least as far as formal and organized protests go. Was there a champion for this movement? I haven’t seen it yet, but maybe it goes into it later?

    • bookaliciouspam 2:52 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      The first part of the book shows that women are more repressed than men for sure, but I always wondered unless you were one of the Generals or someone important enough to have a haindmaid do you have any read freedoms? Everyone in this society is oppressed in some way. It reminds me a lot of the abolished caste system in India but way more regulated and consequences for actions are verily much more notable and organized.

      • jendevourerofbooks 2:54 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I think that’s a really interesting point, Pam. We don’t see a lot about what it is like to be a man in this society (other than being told that the men have Salvagings too), since it is all from Offred’s point of view, and she isn’t allowed much contact with men, and certainly not anything candid with anyone but the Commander.

      • ibeeeg 3:03 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        You know what, I wondered about the men as well. The ones with lower rank, did they really have any freedom? I think they still had more freedom than women but still. Also, I was also very curious as to why the commander and his wife followed the protocol within their home. It was interesting to note that. I don’t know, maybe there were spies everywhere so one would not even try to bend the rules even behind their closed doors.

        • Jeanne 7:19 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          ibeeeg, you’re right in your guesses. All of you are; men have no more freedom in this society than women do. You find out more about that as you continue to read. There’s a wonderful satire on “gender treachery” that is unfortunately not dated enough since this novel was published in the 1980s.

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:31 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Remember when she is looking at the Guardians that are letting her pass through, and she talks about how maybe if they’re lucky one day, they’ll be able to work up to having a wife, and even a handmaid? And that although it’s mean, she’s got a little bit of control still as she walks away because she knows they’re watching her? I actually felt pretty bad for the guys at that point because they definitely have no control on just meeting someone on their own, starting a relationship. Those lower ranking guys seemed just as powerless as the women, at least in that moment, you know?

          • Jeanne 8:04 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

            Even the higher ranking guys aren’t as powerful as they think, which is revealed by Offred’s Commander’s behavior and one of the points of the “Historical Notes” at the end.

            • Coffee and a Book Chick 10:43 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink

              It makes me wonder who has the ultimate authority and the power? I can’t wait to finish this book!

      • Daenel 10:16 am on August 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I thought the repression/oppression of the men was pointed out pretty well because they are not free to choose their wives if they are of a lower “caste.” And the ones who do have wives have Econo-wives.

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 8:58 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Yes, I am feeling the same way as I read this — and I felt bad for them as well. It doesn’t seem like life is very…happy? I shudder at what this world would be like.

    • ibeeeg 2:59 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      This was great book. I fully intended to just read each section by the schedule, but I could not help myself, I had to read it all…Now!

      Why did the people not protest? well, first off, things were taken away sublty. A litte here,and a little there. People did not question the changes that were made because on the surface they did not seem like a bad idea. What they failed to do was question each change. They failed to question whether it would good in the long run, and how much of their rights were truly being taken away. To me, that is the scariest part of the book – how easily the government became what it did and the people followed along. Those who did not follow rebelled, many killed, and many living in exile. Scary stuff that could easily happen in today’s world.
      Once they were in the midst of it all, how could you protest when that would lead to immediate execution…no question. I like how the people did, however, put together an underground society to try and fix things.

      Did I pick up any symbolism? none that I can recall. If I get the chance, I am going to go through the sections before our next discussion to see if I see any, but usually it takes a complete re-read for me to start getting the symbolism stuff.

      I did not look up ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’. I tend to not look stuff up that I do not understand because more times than not a book will explain stuff in its time.

      The book burning scene immediately reminded me of Tipper Gore and her protest against certain rock albums. I think that took place in the early 80’s. I don’t clearly remember it but I remember it being a huge deal.
      I wasn’t bothered by it because usually these type of intense groups do not make a huge dent in the society. However, that is true because there usually is another group who opposes it…almost as vocally…a counterbalance. That is the key with this book, there wound up being no counterbalance to laws and regualtions that were put into place…too much authority for only one group.

      Ahh..wait…I was just reading Frankie’s reply and yes, I was thinking that the color red was signifcant…it stood for a females reproductive cycle…bleeding goes with menstruation as well as with birth.

      • jennygirl 5:49 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Ah Tipper Gore. I was young but I remember my mom and dad making a big deal out of it.

        Wonderful thoguhts.

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:35 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        You definitely did what I wanted to do! I wanted to read the whole thing right away (since I’m picking up Mockingjay and all today…!). It was too good to simply just close the book at page 75 and just wait!

        There’s a great quote in the book about people’s rights being taken away subtly — how something like “nothing changes subtly and that you’d be boiled in a bathtub without even realizing it was getting to that point if the heat just was increased little by bit.” And before the people knew it, they were suddenly just a repressed society, new order and rule, and no say. Can you imagine? Frightens the heck out of me.

        • ibeeeg 2:10 pm on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          You are right, it is a frightening thought that things change in such a way that before you know it you are being boiled. That really can happen which is why this story is so mind blowing.

    • jennygirl 4:29 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Absolutley loving this book and I can’t believe I waited this long to read it.

      1.) Freedom from: for me it means freedom from thinking and making any choices. Apparently you people couldn’t do it correctly before so now you are free from making any further mistakes. We know what is right or wrong and will do it for you.

      2.) Why didn’t people protest more? I am not sure about this. As someone else suggested maybe the freedoms were taken away gradually so no one noticed. (Remind you of anything currently?) By the time anyone noticed it was too late. I think that society was too complacent and not interested in government so that religious factions were able to slowly take over. The society was too busy trying to be cute, pretty, and reading for knowledge. Knowledge is bad, becuase it means you question others, and this crazy gvmt doesn’t like that.

      3.) Offred said that to fit in and blend in. She had to or else risk of being banished or beaten I presume. I don’t believe she truly meant it.

      4.) Symbolism: the only thing for me is the red. Sorry! They like to say the red is for being handmaid and special but I think it is also meant to be like the Scarlett Letter. They are dirty girls because they have had or will have sex. This is very oppressed society. The Wives are dressed like nuns or virgin Marys becasue of the blue. The Officers remind me of German soldiers. Sorry to say it but I think gestapo when they describe the Eyes, the officers and the guards. Plus under Hitler there were no questions asked and they controlled the media, just like this society. The simulated sex, means that sex is dirty, bad, and shameful.

      5.) Didn’t look up the words but Heather said it translates to “Do not let the bastards grind you down.” So in essence hang in there sister. You are not alone in this tradegy. Some sort of resistance must be in play.

      6.) Religion has become an even bigger part of society with more impact. I thought it was sad that books are being burned because it implies that one segment of society feels it knows best for all. That is not the case in my opinion. If you don’t want your child to read or learn something, then it is up to you to censor your child. Not the children of your neighbors. If you don’t like the community you live in, then move. Censorship never leads to good things.

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 10:46 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        What a great point on the color red meaning being a dirty girl — I only thought about life’s cycle and then anger — but the Scarlett Letter piece, being considered a dirty girl, that’s way interesting and I hadn’t thought of that!

        • ibeeeg 2:14 pm on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          The dirty girl is an interesting thought, and i am sure those who are higher in status do look upon the handmaid as such.

    • Lisa 7:26 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m in agreement: I think we’ll learn more about why the people didn’t protest more as their rights were restricted. But here’s what I’m thinking at this point: we’ve been having our rights curbed back ever since 9/11 in the name of national security and, for the most part, we’ve been more than willing to allow it. It’s now possible that you will be asked to go through a machine in the airport that may all but see you naked. People have grumbled but if you want to fly you’ll be willing to do it.

      As for symbolism, the red I would agree symbolizes the menstrual blood and the idea of all of the different references to “view” have do with the Handmaid’s view, in all respects, being controlled.

      Censorship? Can’t stand it and abhor the idea of inculcating children into the idea. Here’s the thing–if you tell children/young people something is bad for them, doesn’t that just make them aware of something they might not even have been aware of? It’s always been my experience that if you tell people that something is forbidden, they’ll want it all the more.

      • Jeanne 7:03 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Lisa, I think what you say about rights being curbed since 9/11 is one of the important issues to discuss when thinking about why people didn’t protest more. There’s a famous essay by Bruno Bettelheim entitled “The Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank” about the Frank family’s belief that their life could go on as before while the Nazi laws got more and more stringent. The same kind of thing happens in

        • Jeanne 7:14 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          the Handmaid’s Tale, culminating with the images in Chapter 28. (As some of you have noted, there are lots of Nazi references, plus a good many to American Slavery, like how the women can’t be allowed to read.)

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:38 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        You know, you’re right — I travel for business frequently, and it amazes me to think of how flight travel was 10 years ago before 9/11 and what it is like today. I mean, people could drop you off at the airport and walk with you directly to the gate! And now, with events even in the past 5 years as well, we have to take everything out of our suitcase at security, take our shoes off…it is just a little bit at a time, sort of like this book, and now that machine that literally makes you naked, shows everything about what you look like with no clothes on! And, not to mention, airport security could actually save the picture into their database! What a great point you made, and it really makes me think!

      • Karen 12:21 pm on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Lisa – I just had to look up inculcating (to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions). I’d never heard that word before! Good one!

    • Coffee and a Book Chick 9:09 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      “Aunt Lydia says, “In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from.” (24). Freedom from what?”
      Sometimes the freedom of choices brings about the stress of not knowing which choice to select and thus feeling stagnant and helpless — ultimately forcing you to procrastinate. Limiting your choices, to the point of no choice at all, only one that is provided for you provides the freedom of knowing that you do not have to pick, think or do anything but follow. Frightening, isn’t it?

      “Why didn’t people protest more when their rights were taken away?”
      I’m still wondering why people didn’t react and stand up for themselves as much as I think people would — but then I think of the stories that they’ve all been told, of the women being murdered in the woods. The silence of the real boogeyman come to life and thrashing away to change society. The combination of Serena Joy being the angelic voice of the new cause for women to stay at home. Could people have become so swept up in the excitement of something new and different that they couldn’t see past the initial thrill to the reality of it all?

      “Why does Offred tell the interpreter for the group of Japanese tourists that she is very happy as a handmaid?”
      Society is a weight upon all residents — there are no freedoms in this world that Offred lives in, and how can she can do anything else but risk speaking so that she can relay that she is happy? It’s the only way to not invite a backlash in her world, fear of death, punishment, exile. It’s pure protection.

      “Is any symbolism jumping out at you yet?”
      The colors associated with the women’s roles — particularly red. Red is the perfect color in representing women because of the cycle of life and menstruation. Not to mention that red also represents anger, which has me interested to see if that plays out in the book.

      “Did anyone else look up ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’? What do you think it means?”
      I haven’t looked it up yet because I wasn’t sure if it would be revealed throughout the book in a pivotal moment. I’m figuring it’s a nice, big middle finger being given to the oppressive state of the world by one individual woman in the face of it all. And I liked it!

      “What did you think of the scene where the mom takes the daughter to the book burning for the pornography? Is it ever okay to censor?”
      I don’t ever think it’s okay to censor, but then I get worried when I say something like that because I think of all the things that I wouldn’t want my nieces or nephews to ever know about, EVER. It’s such a frightening thing to think of a government censoring and then not knowing where the line is and having them cross over the line to the full extent of oppression and fear.

      I am so thrilled that I am participating in this read-along! This is my first Margaret Atwood novel, and I know it won’t be my last! Looking forward to the section next week with everyone!

      • Jeanne 7:24 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        What a good way to put it about why Offred says she is happy–“pure protection”! Atwood has said in interviews that there isn’t anything in this novel that wasn’t taken from her file of newspaper clippings from the time. The really unfortunate thing about that scene is that it’s still going on in many middle eastern countries. A reporter goes up to a woman in a burqa and asks if it’s her choice to dress modestly. Yes, she says, yes.

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 10:50 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          My parents actually lived in Saudi Arabia for about 8 years in the ’90s (my Dad was an engineer and the American company he was with at the time transferred him over there). Our family is so used to traveling and living overseas for work, but I was worried about them simply because of how much they would have to adapt to this very different culture, and my mother covering herself in public, etc. I always feel bad for those that are covering themselves up over there — whether for religion, whether for pressure to do so, etc. I do question why, and wonder the value of it, no matter how many times I get into a discussion on why it’s thought to be okay, you know?

    • 1girl2manybooks 5:13 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I am loving this book so far – just read the whole section in one go and I really want to keep going! It drew me in right from the start! I also think that they are being given freedom from -choice-. Clearly the ruling class now thinks that the choices being made were bad ones – promiscuity, drinking, smoking, lack of modesty. Even though I think she states it’s been 3 years since the ‘before’ so many things from that time are a distant memory now. The way things are now have been implemented so forcefully, so swiftly, so completely that it seems like protesting/resisting wasn’t even an option. And to resist now certainly seems to mean being hung on the Wall or riddled with bullets like the Martha. They know this and accept it and I think it was that surety that led her to tell the Japanese interpreter that she was happy being a Handmaiden.

      As for symbolism, I find the colours interesting! Red, as people have mentioned, for menstrual blood, and life. Blue is often considered the colour of royalty and it’s the colour the Virgin Mary wore, and this is the colour the Wives wear. Green seems practical, earthy for the Martha’s. The daughters wear white, which reflects purity and innocence. I also find the repetitiveness of what she can see, or often, can’t see meaningful as even that is controlled.

      I do and I don’t agree with censoring, in that I’m also a mother of a young child and there are definitely things I wouldn’t allow him to see. Would I burn things? No, and definitely not in front of him. But I would certainly exercise some sort of control over what he could view until I thought he was of such an age that he could choose for himself. It’s hard to know what that age is though!

      Loving all the discussion 🙂 This is the first read-a-long I’ve ever done and I think it’ll really enhance a book like this one. Looking forward to the next section!

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 10:51 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        This is my first read-along, too, and am loving it as well — what a great book for us to start with, huh? I’ve never read any of Atwood’s novels before, so this is turning into a real treat!

      • Frankie 4:36 pm on August 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Yesterday, after finishing the 2nd section, I had an Ah Ha moment about the colors the women wear. Then read comments from 1girl2many books and jennygirl. They got it before me. Red has always been a color that referred to prostitutes,(Scarlette O’Hara had to wear it for a kiss, Sting sang that Roxanne didn’t have to put on the red light.”) Or even for a show-off. How many of us have attended a high-school reunion/party/wedding and there is a woman in red. She looks great and is having a grand time but somebody(usually a woman) sitting at a table is “dissing” her for being showy!. But a man is thinking,”she is hot”. Blue is cool and a calming color. Green is organic,earthy,vegetables. How about the name Martha. In the bible she was sister to Mary and Lazarus. I googled her name and she is referred to as the perfect hostess .
        Now I have to admit I won’t have all these thoughts if I were reading this on my own. I’m very glad to be part of this 🙂

    • Jeanne 7:28 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      As you continue to read, look for examples of ignoring and ignorance, like “it isn’t the sort of thing you ask questions about, because the answers are not usually answers you want to know.”

    • Jo-Jo 8:11 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m so glad I decided to read this book with you all because I’m sure this is one that my regular book club would not be interested in, even though it has so much to offer! This is my first time to read this book and I’m loving it.

      I agree with what all of you have to say about freedoms. I guess I will stop complaining about all of the choices I have to make!

      As far as why they didn’t protest I agree with what both Lisa and Ibeeeg have to say. It actually reminds me a bit of Hitler and the Holocaust too. Peoples rights are taken away just a little at a time and before you know what’s happened everything has changed. The following I think is a good excerpt that was on page 56 of the edition that I am reading that I think sums up this question rather well:
      ‘Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women and the men who did such things were other men.’

      I am also horrible with spotting symbolisms, but I do agree with what a few of you have to say about red and the menstrual blood.

      As far as censoring goes, I do believe that every parent has the right to censor according to their beliefs. But government sponsored book burning is crossing the line. It kind of goes back to having your rights taken away and as Frankie mentioned, also reminds me of Nazi Germany.

      It will be interesting to see as we read on what kind of rights the women that are actually not handmaids really have, along with the men.

    • Alyce 8:51 pm on August 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m just stopping by to say that I am reading this book, and plan to participate more in the upcoming discussions. I just got back from a trip and am still kind of on vacation for one more day. The first 80+ pages were so compelling that I didn’t want to stop reading. I look forward to participating more in the rest of the discussions!

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 9:00 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Alyce, I am right there with you! I read the first 75 pages and then went on vacation, so I am hurrying to read the next section by tomorrow!

    • Melissa 11:45 am on September 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Sorry I’m late to the discussion. I just got back from vacation, but I’m catching up!

      I’m really enjoying the book. I’ve read a bit of Atwood, but this has always been the book of her’s that people say is a must read, so I’m thrilled to finally pick it up.

      The world Offred lives in seems so innocuous at first, but as soon as the truth begins to unfold it becomes disturbing in a hurry. A world where your decisions are taken away from you is absolutely terrifying to me. The fact that women aren’t allowed to read anymore also stood out as horrific to me. Taking away a person’s right to read and communicate through writing is so debilitating. You’re trapping them in ignorance.

      The other thing that I found a bit shocking is the fact that it’s only been three years since “before.” Imagine our society becoming like this by 2013.

      p.s. Huge thanks to Jeanne for her great questions and sharing her expertise on the book with us and to Trish for hosting this read along!

  • trish 11:27 pm on July 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Handmaid’s Tale Schedule 

    I can’t wait to begin discussing The Handmaid’s Tale with you! The last time I read The Handmaid’s Tale I was in high school, so I’m interested in what I think of it now. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I anticipate I will!

    Below is the schedule for The Handmaid’s Tale, which will go for six weeks in August and September. The book is laid out with sections as well as chapters, but we’ll be discussing a certain number of sections at a time.

    August 23 – Sections I – IV
    August 30 – Sections V – VIII
    September 6 – Sections IX – X
    September 13 – Sections XI – XII
    September 20 – Sections XIII – XV
    September 27 – Wrap up

    So far, Jen and Heather have done such a fantastic job that I have quite big shoes to fill! Let’s hope this is as awesome as I hope!

    • Heather 9:18 am on July 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Even though Atwood still gives me the willies, I can’t wait to read this with you. I hope I get over my Atwoodphobia!

    • Natalie @ Coffee and a Book Chick 9:13 am on July 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I can’t wait to read this — I’ve never read Margaret Atwood before, so I am excited to jump into the fray with this!

    • Melissa 8:02 am on July 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’ve been meaning to read this for years. I’m in.

    • Daenel 9:29 pm on July 13, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I remember seeing the movie first and then being excited to find out the movie was based on a book. I’ve read it before but not with a group. Can’t wait!

    • Jen - Devourer of Books 9:13 pm on August 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I just remembered to check and see when we were starting this, good thing, since it is next week! I guess I’ll be working some Atwood into my reading week.

    • Vasilly 10:26 pm on August 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Count me in! I’m glad for the reminder. Heather, why does Atwood give you the creeps?

      • Heather 4:10 am on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Not so much the creeps as she just scares me. I think I had/have a mentality that she is difficult to read. Silly, I know! 🙂

    • Jo-Jo 1:22 pm on August 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m so excited to be reading this book for the first time! I wasn’t sure if I would have time to read it with the other books on my shelf, but after starting it last night realized that it won’t be a problem. I can’t wait to discuss it with you all!

    • Lisa 12:13 pm on August 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Completely couldn’t remember how much we were supposed to read by tomorrow–very excited to see that I’m actually ahead for a change!

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