Margaret Atwood, born in Ontario in 1939, has written several books, not just The Handmaid's Tale. Her most acclaimed novels were The Edible Women, which was her first novel, and was published in 1969 to wide acclaim, and The Blind Assassin, which won Great Britain's Booker Prize for Literature in the year 2000. However, her most widely known book is The Handmaid's Tale, which was published in 1986 and quickly became a best seller. It is now a staple of high school and college reading lists.
The Handmaid's Tale is set in the near future in the fictional Republic of Gilead, which is started after "they shot the [US] president and machine gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency." Immediately after this catastrophe the Constitution was suspended, newspapers were censored or shut down, and roadblocks appeared. Soon, all women lost their jobs, their bank accounts were frozen, and they found themselves forced into what was called service, but what was practically slavery.
(Read page describing how she felt and about the "other" army)
The setting, or the Republic of Gilead, is very important in showing how and why things happened the way that they did, and why Offred, the main character, behaves, thinks, and acts the way that she does.
The Handmaid's Tale covers Offred's time with her Commander, which was less than a year. However, throughout the story, Offred has several flashbacks that reveal what happened to her in her past.
Offred was a married woman with a young daughter when the Republic of Gilead came into being. Since her husband had been divorced before marrying her, her marriage was considered void. She and her husband tried to escape into Canada, but they were caught. Her husband and child were taken away from her, and she was shipped off to a training base, where Aunts, or older teachers, taught her what her new position was to be. Since Offred was young and still able to bear children, she was given a choice: either become a "Rachel", whose basic purpose was to have a child to be raised a Commander's house, or be declared an "Unwoman" and be sent to the colonies, where "eventually, your nose falls off and your skin pulls away like rubber gloves." Naturally, she chose to become a Handmaid. After being trained (and meeting up with her old college friend, Moira), Offred is assigned to her Commander's house. Her Commander's wife, Serena Joy, is a bitter woman who wants nothing to do with her. Everyday, Offred goes into the town to shop with another Rachel. Her shopping partner, Ofglen, is a...