Abraham has come from England in the early years of American settlement to work with his uncle who has sponsored his transport He is surprised by the reception he receives: he is thrown into the barren barracks with the other poor, desperate workers and sent to peddle the wares of the business to surrounding folks, to the best of his ability. Abe, as he comes to be known, begins his journey as a traveling peddler by landing surreptitiously in the home of a stunning, fiercely independent, Cherokee woman. She takes him in briefly, cares for him, and although amused by him, does not return his sudden, youthful passion. As he seeks to reconcile this woman’s past and discover where her heart truly lies, he grows to understand not only himself, but the complex stratification of the society he sees growing around him.
My first impression of this story was actually incredulity – that a story was being written about a Jewish man falling in love with a Cherokee woman hundreds of years ago in this country. It just sounded to me an unlikely scenario, given the insular world of the Jews at that time. As I read further, what I came to appreciate was that it was a clever vehicle through which to describe the era of the Trail of Tears. This dark period in our American past is when President Andrew Jackson authorized the displacement of thousands of indigenous people from their land and moved them in caravans westward. This atrocity was committed under perilous conditions, and thousands of Native Americans perished because of disease, starvation, unwieldy weather conditions and a lack of adequate provisions from the American government. In telling this story through the eyes of Abe, a Jew and an outsider trying to find where he fit in among the various strata of peoples, there is often a delineation of the pecking order and a redefining of that pecking order as Abe continues to struggle with it. Where do the slaves of the Cherokees fit in? Where do the slaves of the Whites fit in? Where does he fit in relative to them all? As he is sorting this all out, we see how the groundwork of all of it is being sorted out for future generations – and how some sought to fight against it but, sadly, lost.
So, at first glance, I wasn’t sure about this book, but as I continued through it, it gained more and more value to me and I appreciate it for its very powerful messaging. I feel it educated me and gave me insight into this bleak blot on our American past.
After years of answering no to people asking me, “YOU haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale???” I can now, finally answer YES! And now that it’s been both a movie and a Hulu original series, I can crawl out from under the proverbial rock I’ve apparently been living under and show my face.
Offred, who never reveals her true name but who is now called this, is a Handmaid. Her role in the current social structure in the Republic of Gilead is to become pregnant and give birth to a baby in order to repopulate the Republic. Gilead has taken over what was the United States and has established a religious order, under which women have the sole purpose of reproducing and watching over the household and men essentially have complete authority over them. It’s a dystopia that actually heeds backwards and justifies itself in claims of protection of the woman and eliminating the need for competition among women for men’s attention.
What is horrifying is the timeliness of this dystopian novel. So many comments from the “Aunts” or teachers who indoctrinate the Handmaids in the book sound frighteningly similar to conservative republican comments, with their anti-abortion rhetoric which ignores the woman and focuses on the gathering of cells that happen to be inside her. Or the hypocrisy, when the Commander (quite like our Commander-in-Chief!) who has his status because of his piety then shows his true colors by taking the Handmaid to a good, old fashioned brothel. Worst, anyone who is different, dissents, or can’t be broken to follow the new order is tortured and killed – and publicly so.
I know this book is fiction. I know the difference between fiction and reality. But as our current president chips away at our constitution and all that we’ve accomplished over the years since the 1960’s, I fear the difference between this dystopia and our reality will become smaller and smaller.
And I apologize that this book blog so frequently becomes political – but in the current day, it cannot be helped. Please bear with me!
I finally had the opportunity to read what so many high school juniors have been reading for decades now. Unfortunately, I did not have the benefit of what must be wonderful philosophical discussions about it with young, curious minds.
This story is about a boy, a shepherd, who meets a king who inspires him to follow omens and signs that will direct him to a treasure. The king gives him 2 stones that indicate yes or no and are to be used to guide him through his journey. Almost immediately the boy encounters failure. Rather than becoming despondent, though, he picks himself up and begins to work to compensate for his initial failure and as he does, he learns that failure can teach lessons and that the journey is part of what enables him to achieve his Personal Legend. Because he is mindful and attentive during each moment of his journey, crossing rivers and desserts, he inherits wisdom from each person he encounters, no matter how simple or how obtuse they may be.
It is clear why this book has been translated into so many languages and has been read by literally millions of people. It can be understood on so many levels and its meaning broadened to so much significance. So much so, that I will not begin to pontificate on that here in this blog.
Suffice it to say, that as I go on my personal journey in life, I will consider the message of the boy for me to be that we must be mindful of each step – good or bad – all the while taking into account and appreciating what we have already.
If you’re inclined to the philosophical, this book is for you!