A third of the way through, I find that we’ve only covered about three days in the present. The backstory is in layers: Offred’s past, just prior to this when she was "in training"; her life with her husband and daughter; her life prior to marriage; her life as a child.
Seems like an awful lot of catching up to do, but it occurred to me that in science fiction of this sort, where the future is based upon a current society and environment familiar to the reader, it would be necessary to explain the changes, especially when we’re dropped into this new society so structurally different than our own. We are made aware of a civil war in progress, but we wonder if a war brought about this society and its political theories, or if the war came about as a result of it. Since the televised news seems to imply that "we" are fighting the "rebels," I’m assuming that at the very least, this society is being attacked by another in dissension. To throw a monkey wrench in, Atwood has visitors from Japan wearing short skirts and being overly made up and sexy–totally against what Offred is showing us is her current reality.
Another thing that becomes obvious to me, is that the experience of the reader plays an integral part in this novel in particular. It didn’t, for example, strike me as so very odd that the religious tone was set, the pious, the clothing Offred wears that is so very familiar to me in my Catholic upbringing. Atwood is making a statement here, and my experience of her as a vocal feminist does shade the story. Double-shades, perhaps; Atwood’s influence on the writing and my own take of Atwood, as well as this writing.
It still hits me as a bit strange, however, that a society would go so far backward in its thinking as to prohibit women from reading, and protect them so totally as to be oppressive. I want to know what caused this topsy-turvy world.