lllustration of six women wearing long, loose red dresses

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood
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What were some of the family struggles in The Handmaid's Tale? What did men struggle with? What did the women struggle with? What did the children that were taken away from their families struggle with?

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Offred is part of a family unit that includes her, the Commander, Fred, and Fred's wife, Serena. Serena is too old to have children—and infertility is rampant in this dystopic world—so Offred, who successfully had a child, has been pressed into service as a handmaid. She is forced to have sex with the commander with the idea that any baby she has will be given to Serena and Fred as their own child while she is sent on to a new family.

This is an obviously highly dysfunctional situation. Offred struggles with not wanting to be there and with the humiliation of being subjected to ritual rape while being held between Serena's legs. She struggles with missing her child and her old, independent life. Serena struggles with having to endure her husband having sex with another woman, her fears that her husband is infertile, her desire for a child, and her new role as a subordinate, stay-at-home housewife. Serena was a prominent public figure campaigning for the evangelical world that has come into being, but ironically it has robbed her of the purpose and power she once had. She is obviously bored and unhappy tending her flowers. The commander struggles with his sexual desire for Offred that transcends simply having a ritualized rape experience with her once a month—he craves human interaction.

While we don't see the struggles of the children taken from their families, we can conclude the changes are traumatic for them. Overall, the rigid gender and family roles imposed through fear and violence by the new regime seem to have left everyone feeling dissatisfied and unhappy.

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