Over the last decade, dystopias have begun to become more and more popular amongst readers, and “Gather the Daughters” is one of the best ones I’ve ever read, even though it’s not as well-known as it should be.
Having been likened with Margaret Atwood’s famous novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” due to the way in which both books have a feminist undertone and describe societies where women are viewed as being lesser than men, Gather the Daughters offers a gripping depiction of the lives of four young girls in a patriarchal, systemically abusive society.
Religious segregation in Gather the Daughters
What sets the scene for this for this fascinating dystopia is the strong cult-like religious theme that is present throughout the novel. The action takes place on an island, completely isolated from the rest of the world, where life is centered around worshipping the ancestors that established it. The inhabitants of the island live by a set of rules dubbed the “shalt-nots” invented by the ancestors and based on strict Christian dogma.
These rules are what establish the roles of men and women within the island’s society, and anyone who disregards them is severely punished by the wanderers, a group of 10 men who lead this society. They are the only ones that are allowed to leave and go wander the ‘wastelands’ outside the island.
Systemic child abuse in a patriarchal society
On the island, men are the ones who do most of the work, while the women are expected to care for the children and take care of the house, although they are taught how to read and write. Women are taught to take care of a household from childhood, and they are trained to become good wives from an early age. Because of this, fathers are expected and encouraged to routinely sexually abuse their daughters from a very young age in order to prepare them for their future role, which, for the island’s inhabitants, is a common occurrence.
Although the girls don’t think that their treatment is abnormal, since this is the only reality they know, Jennie Melamed depicts their feelings in such a skilled way that the reader can clearly see how much pain these events cause them, and how they are steeply aware that they are perceived as being inferior to men.
In spite of the girls’ apparent powerlessness, the novel explores the different ways in which they all try to fight back or unknowingly escape their bounds – some more successfully than others. Filled with chilling events and well-rounded, compelling characters, Gather the Daughters is a truly engrossing read that will make you steeply aware of how normalized and unimpeachable abuse can be in a society.