Like most authors of dystopian fiction, Atwood meant this to be a cautionary tale. Writing during a time of strong politically conservative influence, Atwood envisioned a future where women would lose all of the rights they had gained during the 60s and 70s movements. She drew her concept from the book of Genesis in the Bible, where the handmaiden Hagar is forced to bare children for Abraham because his wife is barren. I wasn't alive in the 80s, so I don't know how plausible this story seemed at the time (someone who read it back then could tell me) but I know that when I first read it in 2003, it seemed a little hysterical. After all, another conservative was in office at the time and though there were many things the Left feared from Bush, it never seemed that a complete repeal of women's rights was possible.
So to me, the book seemed hysterical and unrealistic. Back to the 50s- a possibility. Back to the Bronze age, not likely.
Still, it was an exciting and provocative book.
I found out about the proposed removal of this book from a Texas high school on a website called SafeLibraries.org, whose main focus seems to be encouraging libraries to filter porn but they also talk about books.
In writing about the nature of some young adult books they write:
from Judson Board Set to Write Final Chapter on Sci-Fi Book, March 22, 2006:Judith Krug, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said [regarding] 'The Handmaid's Tale' [that e]ven as the book is being challenged, it also is being used more frequently because teachers are trying to bring in contemporary, well-written material that interests students.... "They're dealing with real literature," she said. "These are kids who are about to step into the real world." She added: "These are people who are going to be voting soon."What an excuse, "real literature," because children will be "voting soon." About what, aimless sex, drugs, alcohol, and death?
I read the article about the Judson High School disagreement over The Handmaid's Tale. The novel, by the way, is not a Young Adult novel.
According to the article cited by Safe Libraries, The Handmaid's Tale was a part of a college-level advanced placement course in the school and had been for 10 years before a parent complained in 2008, prompting the Superintendent to remove the book. A committee of parents, teacher and students later returned the book.
Parents at this school did have the option of substituting another book (great idea), which one school mom (according to the article) did- her child read Brave New World, which is #52 on the ALA's list of most challenged books, because of profanity, violence, drug use etc.
In fact...people do vote about drug use, alcohol, death and sex. We pass legislation involving those issues all the time.