Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale came on my radar in a typical way … just after the TV series came out last spring. After episode two, I decided I needed to stop watching and read the book first – I finally got to it last week. To be honest, I was hesitating to read it. I heard many people say it was scary how well the themes resonate with modern society, and I thought “why aggravate myself?”
Everyone’s right–The Handmaid’s Tale does resonate with many aspects of American society. Reading the book, I could totally see man-made disasters completely destroying the planet and ruining society. I could see religion being used as a cover to impose radical conservatism. One particularly disturbing aspect of the novel was the concept of regressing, particularly with respect to the rights of women. I always think of women as making progress, being better off than their mothers. However, Atwood describes a world where progress can be undone – progress for women, the poor, the environment. This, in my opinion, is the most disturbing part of The Handmaid’s Tale.
I wondered, but how did Atwood see this coming when she wrote The Handmaid Tale back in 1984?
Turns out she didn’t have to. In a telling essay at the end of the edition I read, Atwood explains she had one rule — everything in the book must be something that has already happened in history. From the handmaids, to the executions, to the clothing, Atwood was (perhaps tragically) inspired by history. She just brilliantly pieced it all together to bring us one, telling novel.
Scary, thought provoking, and bound to become a modern classic. Can’t wait to finish up the series now!
This is the special edition of The Handmaid’s Tale I listened to, complete with Atwood’s clever and telling epilogue and essay.