The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, Reviewed by Mark D. Walker

I decided to read this book after I saw the author promoting a fundraiser for PEN America to combat book banning. She partnered with Penguin Random House to create an unburnable version of her often-banned novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.  She is depicted with a flame thrower. Margaret Atwood is among the top twenty authors banned, with three titles and fifteen bans in eleven districts. One of the positive results of book banning is that many readers will read them to find out why they’re being suppressed.

She’s also an accomplished author with over fifty books translated into 35 languages. This book hasn’t been out of print since it was first published in 1985 and has sold millions worldwide. Over the years, it has been reproduced in many formats, and in 2016, Hulu announced a straight-to-TV series of the book. Atwood was a consulting producer and played a small cameo role in the first episode.


But what makes this book special is that although it was written 28 years ago, the dystopian society it depicts seems to reflect the direction we’re moving towards today, making this a very timely story worth reflecting on. With the wife of a Supreme Court Justice involved with the sedition of January 6th and a Supreme Court, which has overturned Roe vs. Wade and a woman’s right to determine a choice on abortions, this fictional story seems possible.

Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute released new findings showing how successful Christian Nationalists have spread their oppressive message.

The rising influence of Christian nationalism in some segments of American politics poses a significant threat to the health of our democracy. Increasingly, the major battle lines of the culture war are being drawn between a right animated by a Christian nationalist worldview and Americans who embrace the country’s growing racial and religious diversity.


In a racial breakdown, the study indicates that 64% of white evangelical Protestants—the most significant percentage of any group—identify as either adherents or sympathizers of Christian nationalism.

Atwood acknowledges the extent to which her dystopian vision of many years ago is proving relevant today, “It’s this aspect that seems the most possible to me at those uneasy moments when I find I’m convincing even myself of the plausibility of my own dire creation.”

In the author’s dystopian future, environmental disasters and declining birthrates have led to a Second American Civil War.  This led to the rise of the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian regime that enforces rigid social roles and enclaves the few remaining fertile women. The main protagonist, Offred, is a Handmaid obligated to produce children for one of Gilead’s commanders. She is deprived of her husband, her child, her freedom, and even her name.

The inspiration for the Republic of Gilead came from a study of early American Puritans at Harvard. She contends that Puritan leaders wanted to establish a monolithic theocracy where religious dissent would not be tolerated.

She revealed in an updated introduction in 2017 that her book is not “anti-religious.” It is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny, which is a different thing altogether.”

Atwood was also inspired by the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1978-1979, where a theocracy was established that drastically reduced women’s rights and imposed a strict dress code on Iranian women. And where the leaders frequently profess in a very sanctimonious manner to act from the highest moral principles, in reality, the opposite is the case.

She lists a series of influences to developing this story”…group executions, sumptuary laws, book burnings, the Lebensborn program of the S.S. and the child-stealing of the Argentinian generals, the history of slavery, the history of American polygamy….”

The novel concludes with a fictional epilogue described as a transcript of an international historical association conference in 2195. In it, the keynote speaker explains that Offred’s account of events was recorded onto cassette tapes later found and transcribed by historians studying what is then called “the Gilead Period.”

In a final scene, Offred is led into a parked van by armed guards, and she says, “Whether this is my end or a new beginning, I have no way of knowing. I have given myself over into the hands of strangers because it can’t be helped.” And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.”

And as the novel ends, its story and inspiration are picked up and moved along by the Hulu production in 2016. Bruce Miller, the executive producer, created the series. It was ranked the 25th of 38th best TV series of the 21st century by The Guardian and BBC and has gone five seasons. Hulu announced that this would be the sixth and last season. The Hulu production is dark and foreboding and reflects the underlying suffering within the dystopian world Atwood envisioned.

“Atwood takes many trends which exist today and stretches them to their logical and chilling conclusions…An excellent novel about the directions our lives are taking…Read it while it’s still allowed.”—Houston Chronicle.

 About the Author

 Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her novels include Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and the Madd Addam trilogy. Her 1985 classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, was followed in 2019 by a sequel, The Testaments, which was a global number-one bestseller and won the Booker Prize. In 2020, she published Dearly, her first poetry collection in a decade.

Atwood has won numerous awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In 2019, she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honor for services to literature. She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright, and puppeteer. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; 1st Anchor Books edition (March 16, 1998)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 311 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 038549081X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0385490818
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 14 – 18 years
  • Lexile measure ‏ : ‎ 750L
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 4 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 16 x 0.69 x 7.99 inches
  • Best Sellers Rank: #661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • Customer Reviews: 

4.4 out of 5 stars    , 96,639 ratings

The Reviewer

Mark D. Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He’s a contributing writer for The Authors Show, Wanderlust Journal, Revue Magazine, and the Literary Traveler. His column, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why,” is part of the Arizona Authors Association newsletter. One of his essays received a Bronze from the Solas Literary Awards for Best Travel Writing.  His first book is Different Latitudes: My Life of the Peace Corps and Beyond.  His latest book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, is now available on His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can find over 65 book reviews and 25 of his articles at


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