When you think of The Handmaid’s Tale, you probably recall the stills from the Hulu TV adverts — women in long, red cloaks and white bonnets. At least, that is what I thought before I was assigned to read the novel for my Feminism, Sci-Fi, and Technology class. The book, along with its TV counterpart, is a piece of speculative fiction that imagines the world in the near future without any advancements in the present. Basically, it is a terrifying portrayal of a world ridden by religious conservatism and reproductive slavery for women. So, what exactly is so terrifying about this conjectural novel? Well, everything written in the book has already happened.
Yes, you read that correctly. The author, Margaret Atwood, based all the events in the book on true events that have happened around the world. The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian government that systematically murders wrongdoers based on religious fanaticism and a selective interpretation of Old Testament ideas. Due to increased infertility rates brought on by environmental toxins, the few fertile women left are forced to produce children for the ruling class of men, known as the Commanders. Atwood was inspired in part by the restriction of birth control and contraception in Romania under the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, not to mention the murder of insurgents by the Ferdinand Marcos regime in the Phillippines.
However, the Republic of Gilead is based in modern-day America. Atwood has said that her commentary aimed at the United States government in the 1980s, with the rise of conservatism and the election of Ronald Reagan. Christian coalition groups were brought to the forefront, with some such as Moral Majority and Focus on the Family gaining increasing lobbying power. We can certainly draw ties to modern-day America with the Trump administration stigmatizing abortion and defunding women’s health clinics. The Handmaid’s Tale is such an important book because no matter how bleak and frightening, it manages to elucidate a dystopia not far from past and present events.
I don’t want to spoil the book too much, which is why I’ve left most of the plot out. The Handmaid’s Tale has been described as a feminist warning of sorts and I believe it’s a book well worth reading for the sake of its historical parallels, from the Puritanical origins of America to the present day pro-life movement. The Hulu Television series utilizes Elisabeth Moss’s incredible talent to paint a harrowing tale of thought-provoking dystopia. Both the book and the show are well worth checking out.
Cover Photo: theverge.com