The Handmaid’s Tale

It’s a refrain of late to say that this—Margaret Atwood’s most famous book, now thirty-one years old—is suddenly relevant again. But of course the story, of a world in which women are forbidden from working or reading, forced into serving as incubators for wealthier women who cannot conceive, and prevented from so much as whispering against a system that reduces them to their wombs, says as much about the present and recent past as about any possible future. It’s harrowing to read today, as it was a decade ago, and a decade before that, and will be a decade from now. Some tales last a very long time.

Reading notes

Up against the wall

Noted without comment.

I guess that’s how they were able to do it, in the way they did, all at once, without anyone knowing beforehand. If there had still been portable money, it would have been more difficult.

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.

Keep calm, they said on television. Everything was 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.

You wait, she said. They’ve been building up to this. It’s you and me up against the wall, baby. She was quoting an expression of my mother’s, but she wasn’t intending to be funny.

Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, page 174