The story happens in an imaginary future world where the birth rate declines to an extremely low level due to serious pollution and contagious diseases. In order to bring more new babies to the world, a militarized, hierarchical country called Gilead was founded and the handmaid system is adopted there in the name of God.
Fertile women, who were captured and trained to be handmaids, are viewed as walking wombs whose only purpose is to carry and give birth to children. In such a society, women are deprived of the rights to work and even to read. It's believed that the more docile and ignorant the women are, the less likely they will question the system and fight back.
For handmaids, it's more than a misery. They are forced to leave their husband and children and give up their original identity. They are trapped in the mansions like jails. They are tamed to obey all the absurd rules and suffer from the inhumane treatments, like the "ceremony". Otherwise they will be brutally beaten or tortured or even get parts of their body cut. Or maybe they will be sent to a secret club to serve the men.
The story focuses on how Offred and other handmaids struggled for freedom in a secret way. However "well-designed" the social system is, there is always a loophole that they can take advantage of. And usually that's the human weakness. For example, the country is founded to change the morally degraded society, but ironically, high-ranking officials still "have fun" in the secret club and the wife yearning for a baby helps the handmaid to cheat on her husband and bear someone else's child. I guess the future collapse of the society results from not only the free spirit of pursuing freedom, but also the corruption of the system itself.
And after all, the purpose of implementing such a system is not justified. Even if the human species is in danger, there are basic human rights that we cannot deny. For individuals, the life without basic human rights is not worth living. For human beings as a whole, if we abandon all the advancement in human progress and choose to devolve back to "animals", what's the point of prolonging the existence of the human species? Even if the birth rate rises, it only means we are bringing more innocents to this cruel and miserable world, doesn't it?
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