In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the Handmaid Offred recounts in chilling detail the horrors of life in the fictitious Republic of Gilead. Offred’s unflinching lens in describing the circumstances of her life is thrown in stark contrast with her memories of how life used to be.
A taste of Gilead’s state sponsored practices: censorship, exploitation of women as baby-making machines, public display of corpses dangling from ropes, book-banning, control of women’s reproductive organs, secrecy, selective enforcement of rules, black vans that swoop in and “disappear” people, a climate of fear and distrust, road blocks, security checkpoints, confinement, clothing as markers of status, stripping of personal identity, othering, separation of families, discrimination based on race and/or ethnicity, banning the written word, armed militias roaming the streets, corruption and debauchery of officials, public executions, prohibition of birth control and abortion, torture, informants within one’s sex/caste/race/religion, control of the media, and enforcement of religious extremism. All these acts are committed in the name of security and for “the public good.”
While it may be easy to dismiss events in this book as a work of fiction, and/or as the creative imagination of a gifted writer, and while it may be easy to reassure oneself this can never happen in the real world, the truth of the matter is that it is happening. At one time or another, in one corner of the world or another, many such atrocities have been and still are being perpetrated on innocent people.
Margaret Atwood’s brilliant novel serves as an uncompromising reminder to men and women to remain vigilant in opposing every creeping infringement on our rights as human beings no matter how innocuous these infringements might initially appear to be. We need to be particularly vigilant if these infringements come under the guise of safeguarding our security. As we saw in The Handmaid’s Tale, it was by utilizing those very tactics that the Republic of Gilead managed to get a stranglehold on its population.