When I think of books that made the biggest impression on me the first one that comes to mind is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The entire time I read this book I felt like a lightbulb was repeatedly coming on over my head as I’d think, This could really happen. This book scared me with its possibilities but it also made me mad and made me think. For those who haven’t read it, it’s basically about a fundamentalist, conservative religious group that assassinates the president and Congress, suspends the Constitution and severely restricts the rights of women in society. Older, infertile women are put in labor camps while young, fertile women (Handmaids) become breeders for rich, infertile couples as the birth rate has dropped dramatically. The story is told by one of these breeder women, Offred, with flashbacks to the time leading up to this totalitarian state:
It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.
Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.
I was stunned. Everyone was, I know that. It was hard to believe. The entire government, gone like that. How did they get in, how did it happen?
That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.
Look out, said Moira to me, over the phone. Here it comes.
Here what comes? I said.
The Handmaid’s freedom is severely restricted to her Commander’s home where her door is never closed and when she is allowed to leave the house she’s watched by the secret police force. Women are not allowed to vote, own property, have jobs, or even read.
Are they old enough to remember anything of the time before, playing baseball, in jeans and sneakers, riding their bicycles? Reading books, all by themselves? even though some of them are no more than fourteen-Start them soon is the policy, there’s not a moment to be lost-still they’ll remember. And the ones after them will, for three or four or five years; but after that they won’t. They’ll always have been in white, in groups of girls; they’ll always have been silent.
I think it’s ironic that one of our most basic rights, the right to Read is a right denied in this story,a book frequently on banned or challenged lists.
Don’t be silent. Speak up about your right to read any book of your choosing.