What Do I Read Next?
Margaret Atwood followed this book with Cat's Eye in 1988. Some of the same concerns show up in the later book; a controversial painter returns to the city that she grew up in and runs into old friends and the memories of old friends.
Marge Piercy has always been associated with Atwood, mostly because both write poetry and fiction from a feminist perspective. Piercy's book most like this one is Woman on the Edge of Time, her 1976 novel with some science fiction elements to it. The main character, confined to the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital, must learn to behave the way that her oppressors expect of her, but she also travels in time to the future, to the year 2137, with a fellow inmate.
Critics examining The Handmaid's Tale's sinister view of the future often compare it to George Orwell's 1984, which is considered the standard bearer for dystopian novels. Published in 1949, it tells the tale of a society where government surveillance techniques have been perfected, so that every move that citizens make can be monitored and regulated, and of the struggle of one man, Winston Smith, to be free. The other dystopian that is usually mentioned at the same time as 1984 is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Published in 1932, the futuristic society imagined by Huxley has many similarities to our own: citizens use pills to control their moods, babies are born in laboratories, the masses are distracted from disapproving from the government by "Feelies," which are like movies that entertain with sight, hearing and touch. Like Atwood's and Orwell's novels, the problem with total government control is that it interferes when the protagonist falls in love.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, published in 1963, gives a frightening view of the future, concentrating on the lives of juvenile delinquents and speculating about which is worse: their inhuman crimes or the mind-control techniques used by the government to stop their violence.
Carol Ann Howell's recent book on Atwood, entitled simply Margaret Atwood (1996), has some complex and insightful points about Atwood's works in general. The chapter "Science Fiction in the Feminine" is especially useful to students for its examination of how the female perspective puts a different slant on the science fiction tradition and how this genre is particularly useful for conveying feminist concerns.