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Juliann's letter to Margaret Atwood
By Juliann Schamel
Genre: Non-fiction Level: Junior 7-9
Year: 1999 Category: Letters About Literature

Dear Margaret Atwood,

I close my eyes. I can see the cool, quiet world which you describe in The Handmaid's Tale. I can feel the hot, scratchy red dress rubbing against my skin, and the sweat building up inside my "blind." I feel used, abused, deceived, betrayed. There is a constant, gnawing foreboding; a thick, interwoven tension prevades the background. I pop two more advil in my cottony mouth, swallow hard, and read on.

I have never read a book quite like yours. Although I have read only one of your works, it was enough to give me a deep respect for your visions and writing. It gave me a sense of helplessness, and made me appreciate all that I have. Usually, I read a book, finish, put it down, and go on with my life. This novel made me pause and reflect on the message it was trying to send. People often complain about little things, which are really unimportant in the long run. You showed me that I should be thankful for what I have. I spend so much time fretting about what I don't have, that I don't take time to give thanks for all the good things in my life. I see now what the world would be like without the one thing that makes us who we are: emotion. In a world like that of The Handmaid's Tale we would not be human. They were expected to have no emotion, were forced to give up their bodies as incubators (and nothing more), and were made to forget anything personal they ever had: friends, family, names, homes, and memories. The thought is so devastating. I can't even explain how awful that would be. And to think it was humans that did this to them! I can only feel the stinging betrayal.

I don't know how they survived, having no one to confide in, fearing anyone could be an enemy, an Eye. They were all alone, not even knowing what they were up against, for "They" believed you were better off ignorant. Just writing about this makes my stomach sink, and my skin prickle and break out in a cold sweat.

I have deep respect for your vision. I have never encountered a plot like this before. This was a novel experience for me. It's unique, and spine-chilling -- a horror story hidden carefully within a calm, quiet setting.

The way you depict thing is very enlightening. Offred sees the world, since she has so much time to contemplate, in ways I had never thought of before. You have a talent for exposing ideas I've never even of thought of thinking about! I gained so many new views about everyday objects. The description about the egg stands out in my mind. I never considered there could be life inside the moon. Or that God might look like an egg, perfect and smooth and symmetrical. The connection is so obvious, yet I never made it on my own. It's amazing the way you put things together!

Another thing I admire about your work is your metaphors. They are so original. No cliches. It was wonderfully refreshing to read some new metaphors. I have a lot of trouble coming up with original things, and it really inspires me to read your books. See, I am a young writer myself, and I believe one of my major faults is that I never write anything original. I try sooo hard to think of new things, but I just can't seem to come up with ideas of my own. That's what inspires me so much about your work. I wish I could write like that!

When I read The Handmaid's Tale, I had the feeling the girl, Offred, was talking about emotion. Or rather, that there was so much emotion in her, she was forced to subdue it. If she let it out, even just an inkling, it would all come, exploding forth like a bursting dam. She would go crazy. So read your book in a flat, disconnected tone. It made the story all the more disturbing, because it showed me what I would be like if I gave up my individuality. It was as if "They" wanted them to be robots!

The way you let us choose the ending of the book was a comfort to me. I took the hopeful route, and decided that Offred was being taken to safety, to her daughter and husband. I hated the way everyone was separated from their families, and had no way to find them. They must have been so lonely. I think that would be the hardest part for me, if I was in that situation. It discourages me to know that I wouldn't have the courage to stand up against Them, whoever "They" were. It would be so disheartening, to never know for certain who was an ally, and who was acting. Like an ulcer, fear ate away at my stomach the whole time I was reading. This is one of the first books I've read that awoke so much emotion in me, and I have read a lot of books!

I'm glad you made the enemies who took over so vague. The mystery of who "They" were and what "They" wanted added to the plot. If you had spelled out the plot in detail, I would be afraid some sick freak would take the idea and carry it out. Not to say that you are sick, but the antagonists of the story sure were! I wonder how "They" lived. Did "They" allow themselves to keep their emotions, their families, their individuality? Somehow, I can't see that. "They" would be the most strict of all the robots.

When I read this book, I understood it, I comprehended the message. Usually, that part of a book has to be explained to me. I figure out the characters and the plot, but I rarely ever connect with the message. I got this one loud and clear!

Your book made me so thankful for all that I have. I would recommend The Handmaid's Tale to anyone and everyone, but especially those who are conceited or selfish. They would be the first to die, to be sacrificed, if this book were ever to come true. I know that sounds mean, but it might make them realize what they have, and treat others a little nicer. This book can really make a difference.

Your thankful fan,
Juliann Schamel
9th grade
West Valley High School, Fairbanks
Teacher: Mrs. Kraska

Additional Comment by Juliann

March 30, 1999

Hi, my name is Juliann. I've lived in Fairbanks, Alaska my entire life except one year in upstate New York, one in Vancouver, B.C., and a summer in San Francisco.

Every summer my family camps up north for about five weeks, where my parents conduct research on shorebirds and waterfowl. I help them with their research, and have done a little of my own. I have received awards and been published in scientific magazines for my work on the behavior of foxes. In the fall, winter, and spring, I am involved in sports such as X-Country running, snowboarding, and track. My other hobbies are cooking (I plan to be a chef when I grow up), writing, and, of course, reading.

I live in a little log cabin in the woods without running water, a refrigerator, or a TV, so I spend a lot of time reading. In the fifth grade, I set the class record by reading over 5,000 pages. Even though I read almost constantly in the summertime, I have never read many books which evoked much feeling in me. This winter I read The Handmaid's Tale, mostly because I had heard from so many people how good it was. The Handmaid's Tale succeeded in breaking my rule of emotion. It was one of the only books where I felt I really knew the character, even though I didn't know any basic information about her, such as her name.

Some of my other favorite books are The Witching Hour by Anne Rice, Great Expectations, Little Women, Frankenstein, and James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small series. I also love reading Shakespeare. As you can see, many of my favorites are classics, so in my opinion, Margaret Atwood should be right up there with the distinguished authors. She is a writer to be remembered.

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