This brilliant novel plunges us into a future world in North America into a society known as Gilead, where fertility rates have become so low that any fertile woman is rounded up and forced to become a Handmaid to a high-ranking government official so that she can bear him a child. Our narrator is one such handmaid, and slowly, as the novel develops, her story emerges. What is important to focus on is the way that she describes a society that is totalitarian and oppressive in the extreme. The description of vans and hung corpses, combined with the constant threat of violence and the existence of a rebel movement combine to present Gilead as a society that is very unstable. The stable society would not need to go to such great lengths in order to preserve its power an control. The novel presents Gilead as a society that is so fixed on maintaining its power and influence that it is beginning to crack open under the pressure.
Whilst this novel therefore says a lot about one possible future that awaits us, at the same time, it also has much to say about totalitarian regimes and their nature, and the way that any form of government which is based on depriving its citizens of basic essential human rights sows the seeds of its own destruction.