Written in 1986 by Margaret Atwood, the novel The Handmaid's Tale tells the story of a near-future dystopia in which the United States no longer exists. A religious faction forces all fertile women to become handmaids. These once independent women must now live by Old Testament values and live a life of bearing children based on the words from Genesis 30:1-3. .
And when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister and she said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. .
These three verses are the basis for the Republic of Gilead - once the United States. The Handmaids have no rights, no powers and no freedoms, and every movement they make is controlled by the government and all laws are justified by the Bible. .
The story of the Handmaids is made becomes a more personal experience because it is told in the first person by a woman we come to know as Offred.
The Handmaid's Tale creates a society that seems unimaginable, a society of oppression and fear, where society is a prison. It is a future that seems unimaginable by contemporary standards. The Handmaid's Tale poses many philosophical questions in regard to romantic and forbidden relationships and/ or friendships. .
The book itself is frightening and powerful. Against everything, Offred is determined to survive in this world, aided only be her memories of the past and her will to live again in that world again. The Handmaids support each other throughout their ordeals; they speak secretly to each other, sharing bits of news from outside Gilead. However, this is illegal. Only men are allowed the privilege of conversation in public. .
The setting in the book is strange and horrifying.