Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood definitely won my readers heart with this book. Obviously, for those who want the story but don’t want to read all the words, it was recently adapted into a show on Hulu. I’ve seen the first season, and it was good. The one complaint that I have is that I think they miscast the protagonist. This will likely be an unpopular opinion given the success of the show, but I think Elizabeth Moss was probably not the best choice. I was happy, however, with the casting of Joseph Fiennes who has the gravitas to carry his antagonist character. And, bringing in Samira Wiley from Orange is the New Black really brought balance to the cast enough for me to enjoy the show. I have yet to watch additional episodes beyond season one, but maybe sometime in the future I can squeeze that into my schedule.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain makes you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Back to the book! It’s a wonderful, creative way to revive the epistolary drama. Mix in a dystopian plot with very relevant political elements and you have a literary hit! The relevance of the feminist dilemma of this novel gives it a very real civil urgency. The world for the women of Handmaid’s Tale has changed; it’s been upended. The U.S.A. has fallen and crumbled and in it’s place is a new regime. This new regime, Gilead, controls a woman’s life like currency. Birth rates have dwindled to non-existent levels. The women selected to be handmaids are considered no more than breeders for a select few upper-class men and, surprisingly, sometimes their infertile wives.

“You can’t help what you feel, but you can help how you behave.”

The book has obviously been analyzed six ways to Sunday by many literary scholars, including myself, because of the poignant parallels that Margaret Atwood makes with the Holocaust, much like J.K. Rowling does with Harry Potter, and modern feminist politics. These are politically charged books. It makes you really think about how politically fragile we really are as a country and/or a planet, i.e. financially and technologically. And, given the corruption and the attempts to squash individual autonomy, it also makes the reader question the actual levels of bravery in modern society. Is society able to critically analyze what battles to fight and which are actually self-detrimental? It seemed that, when Gilead, the political regime that took control in The Handmaid’s Tale, rose into existence, many people just stood by and watched. As I write this, it really does bring back flashbacks of the invasion of the Capitol building back during the Trump administration. We might think it’s just literature, but dystopian books aim to present very real, plausible life scenarios. It leads us to wonder: what would you do if this did happen?

Work Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Turtleback Books, 1998.

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