Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale takes us into a world quite unlike our own. The book starts in quite a confusing way. Offred is in a gymnasium with other women while they sleep in cots and are monitored by Aunts and Angels. They are constantly being watched and the Aunts and Angels are not afraid to take action against a rebellious woman. We then jump to the present, where Offred is stationed in her first home as a Handmaid.
The role of the Handmaid is to bear children, period. Women can also either be Marthas or Wives, each group with their own distinct role and color that they wear so they can be easily identified. The groups of women are not supposed to interact socially, but Offred wishes she could share in gossip with the Marthas. We hear quick stories about violence that give us another indication that something is not right in this society.
There are many rules in this society, especially for Handmaids who are the lowest on the totem pole. Offred notes that many items are restricted for Handmaids and that speaking out of turn is a huge offense for a Handmaid. Offred is slowly establishing the world of Gilead, leaving the reader very confused as to what kind of society this might be. It is clear that the society has not always been this way but it somehow came to be. It is interesting how members in the society are not only ranked, but women are ranked against each other. While women as a whole hold a lower place in society, there is an order amongst women from Wives to Aunts to Marthas to Handmaids. Because the story is narrated from Offred’s perspective, we see Gilead in a different light than we would if it was being told by a Wife. As Offred holds one of the lowest positions in society, she if often observing those above her, while someone in a higher position would most likely just ignore those below them. Offred has a different insight into this society and there is much to be discovered about Gilead and about life before Gilead.