Women walk down the street in pairs, their vision and faces obscured by white wings, otherwise dressed from head to toe in red, speaking only to each other, and little more than idle greetings at that. They enter a store identified only by a picture on a sign, pay for their items with a token depicting exactly what it is then intend to purchase. They return home, passing through heavily guarded checkpoints where they must present identification. Once at their homes, they must face the jealousy, anger, and hatred of the Wives. They are the Handmaid's, women of childbearing years who have been confirmed to be fertile, valuable only for that fertility so that they may bear a child for the Commander's, the government officials who have charge of the Republic of Gilead, a mono-theocracy that exists within the boundaries of the former United States .
I found this novel to be frightfully disturbing. At first what Atwood describes here seems to be an absurd, paranoid notion. But as you continue to read, the story told in alternating vignettes of the present and flashbacks to the time before the Reconstruction, she inserts just enough of reality to make you think that yes, it could happen. It was written in the mid-80s at a time when many second wave-feminists were worried about loosing all the rights for which they fought. Given that Gilead is controlled by an extremely fundamentalist sect of Christians, based upon the Biblical story of Rachel and Jacob, when infertile herself, she tells him to beget her a child upon her handmaiden, and the fact that there has been a recent upsurge in the political involvement of the Religious Right, this book seems to have gained a new relevance that had been previously lost. It is terrifying to think that anything like this could happen, but at the same time with the political environment of today and the complacency of many throughout the nation, there is just enough to make it seem possible.