As the year was ending, I tried not to get overly anxious about the books that I had not read and the writings that I had not done let alone completed. Do you find that time seems to accelerate as you grow older? Do you also wish that when you age, you could shed the worst of youth and gain the best of age and then you find that it does not happen? Often I do not get much writing or work done in a day because I get restless, I dilly dally and then time slips by, another day is gone. Perhaps I could save time if I care less about grooming and appearance but then I believe vanity is a force of life. Looking your best is essential even if you are not feeling your best . It is as essential as making your bed after you wake up on mornings when you are not ready to face your day.
To a whole new decade ….Happy 2020 !!
7 Jan 2020
Glad to have read The Handmaid’s Tale and its sequel, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood before my vacation. Margaret Atwood’s prose never fails and I would have liked to take my time but I could not slow down my reading as I was going on a trip with my family for Christmas and New Year. I would not be able to cart along the hard copy because where I was going I would need the luggage space to pack some warm clothing. I do not want to lug along a carry- on so I have to pick one novel that could fit into my handbag that contains my travel documents and stuff. I also bring along another novel in my check-in luggage.
The theme for The Handmaid’s Tale is not new in light of novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four written by George Orwell. The premise of the story is about subjugated women in a patriarchal society in dystopia of Gilead, a totalitarian society in what was formerly the United States. The tale is about fundamentalist and tyranny regime that treats women as property of the state, and due to plummeting birth rate resulting from birth control, sicknesses, uncontrolled use of chemical insecticides, herbicides and biological and nuclear warfare, some women are made handmaids on account of their rare abilities to give birth and they are assigned the role to breed. Some of these handmaids tried to resist to gain independence under the fascistic rules. The women under the regime carry on living either as Aunts, Wives, Marthas or Handmaidens. Wives are the highest ranking women in Gilead and they are women who are perceived as being ‘pure’ and moral. They enjoy privileges of marrying to high ranking men such as the Commanders and they have Marthas and Guardians who serve as domestic servants and chauffeurs. Marthas are housekeepers, they take care of the domestic chores at the Commander’s household. By becoming an Aunt in the oppressive Gilead regime, the woman escapes redundancy or suffers the fate of being sent to infamous colonies. There are many women willing to serve as Aunts because of a genuine belief in what they call “traditional values” or for the benefits and little power they might thereby acquire. Dissenters will be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness so those who want to survive will thread carefully around the repressive regime under the watch of the Eyes. Not all hopes are lost because there are Mayday operatives working underground to overturn the Gilead government. Mayday is derived from French word ‘M’aidez’ Help me.
In Handmaid’s Tale, the protagonist June Osborne was married to Luke and had a child. She was caught while attempting to flee the regime. She became enslaved as a Handmaid and she has only one function: to breed. Her child and Luke are no longer with her. Thirty-three year old June, who stands ‘five seven without shoes’, is now Offred, the Handmaid to Commander Fred Waterford who is one of the founders of Gilead. One of the main characters, Aunt Lydia warns Offred and the other Handmaids to be careful of Wives but at the same time to forgive them as they are defeated women who cannot bear children.
In the voice of Offred aka June,
‘ The Republic of Gilead, said Aunt Lydia, knows no bounds. Gilead is within you.
Doctors lived there once, lawyers, university professors. There are no lawyers any more , and the university is closed.’
‘ I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance
If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off .
It isn’t a story that I’m telling.’
The Handmaid’s Tale suggests that women are complicit in a patriarchal regime and some of the women have to become the opportunistic collaborators to survive.
‘There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it .’
In The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, fifteen years later, Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale is amongst those aunts who have been selected by the Chief Commander to form an elite group of women who are assigned the tasks of creating and overseeing the laws and uniforms governing Gilead’s women. A statute has been erected in honour of her many contributions. Aunt Lydia used to be a judge. Is Aunt Lydia a villain or a heroine?
The Testaments is told in the voice of three women, namely Aunt Lydia, Agnes and Daisy. Agnes has grown up in Gilead and is being groomed to marry a commander. Daisy is a feisty teenager living in Canada with her adoptive parents who run a thrift store.
Margaret Atwood has cleverly put together a story that tells us how Gilead’s downfall came about. While The Handmaid’s Tale is gloomy and prescient, enter a ray of hope in The Testaments and the story ends with triumph over misogyny. Excellent prose and fascinating plot.
Here is an excerpt from The Testaments
Part one: The Ardua Hall Holograph
Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.
This statue was a small token of appreciation for my many contributions, said the citation, which was read out by Aunt Vidala. She’d been assigned the task by our superiors, and was far from appreciative. I thanked her with as much modesty as I could summon, then pulled the rope that released the cloth drape shrouding me; it billowed to the ground, and there I stood. We don’t do cheering here at Ardua Hall, but there was some discreet clapping. I inclined my head in a nod.
My statue is larger than life, as statues tend to be, and shows me as younger, slimmer, and in better shape than I’ve been for some time. I am standing straight, shoulders back, my lips curved into a firm but benevolent smile. My eyes are fixed on some cosmic point of reference understood to represent my idealism, my unflinching commitment to duty, my determination to move forward despite all obstacles. Not that anything in the sky would be visible to my statue, placed as it is in a morose cluster of trees and shrubs beside the footpath running in front of Ardua Hall. We Aunts must not be too presumptuous, even in stone.’