Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Handmaid's Tale Review

The Handmaid's Tale
Book #1: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Finished on February 6, 2013.

As a surprise my SO put a few audio books from my Classics Club list on my iPod for the NMSI trip to Killeen, TX. The trip can take anywhere from 5 - 6 hours depending on if I stop for cupcakes at Ultimate Cupcake. I did not stop this time around (regrets), so the trip was close to 5 hours and in that time I finished listening to The Handmaid's Tale.

I was shocked at how fast the trip went and how short the book is. I think my students could easily read this for a two week assignment and the novel addresses at least half of the ontological questions we discuss in class. Here is the list of ontological questions I use. Of course I was made aware of this list through an AP conference.

1.  What is the meaning of life?
2.  How should I live?
3.  How can I accept the idea that someday my life will end?
4.  What does it mean to be a good person?
5.  What is truth?
6.  Am I brave or a coward?  Does courage matter?
7.  Do the rewards of life balance or outweigh its pain?
8.  How should people treat each other?
9.  How can man live in the ugliness of the modern world without despair?
10.  Why do evil and suffering exist?
11.  How can we tell the false from the genuine?
12.  Does my existence matter?  Do I dare to disturb the universe?

For whatever reason I focused on incidents in the novel concerning bravery and cowardice. At one point, Offred considers whether or not she is brave. After all, a decision can only be brave if there is something to lose or a possible consequence. In Offred's case spying for the resistance would mean a heavy punishment, even death. This conundrum and many others faced in the novel are great for class discussion and immediate, personal connections.

I find it impossible to rate a classic based solely on my enjoyment of the plot. I've got a couple of ideas brewing for a rating system which I will detail later. For now, suffice it to say if I really like a piece then it has potential for re-reading; however, I am also reading with a lens toward workability in an AP course. In this case, I find The Handmaid's Tale is teachable. It could replace The Awakening in my syllabus because it is short but incorporates plenty of the ontological questions (not to mention there is sex which is a big seller in high school). As far as re-reading this novel, I doubt I would do so for pleasure.

Next: I'm reading Little Dorrit and I'm listening to Cold Sassy Tree.

1 comment:

  1. I finished this earlier this year and it's taken me until now to put down any of my thoughts about it; I can see why it would be hard to work into a rating system. Love the questions, too - great way to look at the story a little differently.