Anyone who has recently read or watched the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale may be surprised that it was released in 1985, much to the author’s surprise. Many people are eager to read additional books like The Handmaid’s Tale because of the novel’s and TV show’s popularity.
In many ways, these ideas ring truer today than they did 35 years ago, as they correspond to many of the anxieties we face in our modern world. When religious extremists take over Offred’s world, she must learn to live in her “rightful place” as a handmaid, a woman who is to become pregnant for a good family that is unable to do so normally.
For her past transgressions, she has no voice in this matter; if she fails to carry out her responsibilities to the best of her ability, she could face exile or death on a wall.
They all deal with women’s roles in society, oppression they suffer, and what happens to those who don’t play by the rules. Commentaries on how far women have progressed in The Handmaid’s Tale show that progress may be shattered in an instant.
Books like The Handmaid’s Tale
The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
Of course, any list of literature like The Handmaid’s Tale must include The Testaments. Taking place some years after the events of Offred’s novel, The Testaments gives us a deeper understanding of Gilead and the individuals who call it home.
This manner of life is examined by an aunt, an illegitimate Gilead child, and a teen living in Canada, distant from the corruption.
It is evident that women are still oppressed in Gilead, but the story also shows how individuals within Gilead are able to wield modest amounts of power in order to better their own circumstances.
Even though I was afraid it would be derivative or fall short of the initial novel’s excitement, The Testaments far exceeded my expectations and went on to win the 2019 Booker Prize.
Girl, by Edna O’Brien
Edna O’Brien’s Girl isn’t as bleak as The Handmaid’s Tale, but it reads that way at moments. Because of the way women are treated by Boko Haram in Nigeria, this is a true horror story.
Several young girls from Maryam’s town are kidnapped and sent to a camp, where they are sexually assaulted on a regular basis, most of them are under the age of fourteen.
Maryam’s hardships will only get worse from here on out. Unfortunately, she becomes pregnant while married to Mahmoud, a jihadi soldier, and gives birth to a girl instead of the boy they were hoping for. Despite the fact that Maryam and her daughter have escaped, she still faces a risky voyage back to her homeland, and even if she does, what will her new life look like?
The Boko Haram terrors in Nigeria are brought to light by O’Brien in this tremendously successful thriller, which is at times a grueling read. The oppression of women is the underlying topic of this work, and it’s impossible to escape it.
For the same reasons that stories such as The Handmaid’s Tale explore the varying degrees of progress made by women’s rights around the world. This was such a beautiful and moving story.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
This isn’t a dystopian story, but rather one that focuses with the role of women, namely black female characters. Her hopes of love and freedom are destroyed when she is forced to marry an elderly farmer she doesn’t even like, much less love.
The moment Janey decides to leave her marriage, she vows to pursue a better life for herself. However, she soon discovers that she may have made a number of erroneous assumptions about what she truly wants and needs in life. Through Janey’s eyes, Hurston shows us what it’s like to find love and what it’s like when it’s not enough.
As with Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, Janey struggles in her culture to establish a way of life that is more than just survival. Every everyone she meets, including other women, oppresses her in some way or another.
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
As far as this species is concerned, there are no typical gender roles in Never Let Me Go. They appear to be normal individuals to the outside world, but in fact they have been genetically engineered, using the DNA make-up of genuine people, to become organ donors – a life they neither chose nor have the courage to fight against..
As Kathy tells us about her journey to becoming a carer, it is framed as a choice she has made, but given the lack of options she has, it is more of a necessity she has had to accept. Even if it means she lives a little longer than other people her age, Offred has to accept this role in society.
The story is heartbreaking, as Kathy appears to step into her fate without even shedding a tear to the life she must lead. Like Offred, she does not try to defy her circumstances; she simply gets on with it and explains to the reader how fortunate she was in comparison to other youngsters in her situation.
Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, deals with themes of oppression and coercion.
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Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill
There is a teen cattiness to Louise O’Neill’s dystopian YA novel Only Ever Yours, which I like to compare to the movie “Mean Girls” and the novel The Handmaid’s Tale. However, this is because it is set in an all-girls institution, where these young ladies are on the path to becoming women and, for many of them, wives.
The story revolves around frieda, whose name is not capitalized for the sake of brevity, as she vies with the other girls in her class for the honor of being married off to a wealthy man. This is not unlike the various roles women play in other works like The Handmaid’s Tale, in which they serve as sex slaves, nuns, or wives for the sake of serving the men in their lives.
Although the story is a little immature in terms of the girls’ petty dramas and bullying, it makes comments on the role of the church in Ireland and how far women have gone, yet still have to go in modern-day society.