The TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale has been an incredible success (so much so that they’ve already confirmed a Season Three), but before actually watching the series, I decided I wanted to read the novel. I’ve always been a huge fan of George Orwell’s 1984, a futuristic novel that should be seen as a cautionary tale of how the government can control every aspect of our lives, even history (as the protagonist Winston works in doing exactly that, rewriting history). Like Orwell, Atwood hopes that her novel can also be seen as a cautionary tale of how easy it is for women to lose their rights and actually be reduced to silenced slaves if we do nothing about keeping the rights we already have and obtaining new ones that we’re still fighting for today.
The book opens with Offred telling us about her life as a Handmaid. The new government in the Republic of Gilead has outlawed reading for women, they can no longer have bank accounts or jobs. In this new austre republic, women are divided into groups of Wives (who wear blue, much in resemblance to Mary from the Bible and are usually married to commanders), Handmaids (they are used as wombs for the barren wives and made to wear red), Marthas (dressed in green and symbolize those who do chores much like servants), Aunts (they dress in brown and are those who instruct future handmaids on their “occupation”), Jezebels (they’re allowed access to alcohol, drugs, makeup, and garish clothing cause they’re essentially prostitutes), Econowives (wives of those who are lower-rank and dress in stripes), and Daughters (dressed in white). Then there’s the non-women, these group of women are those that have defied authority or are too old to reproduce, hence are sent to the colonies to clean up toxic waste till they die.
In this novel, Atwood seems to want to shake women and tell them WAKE UP! THIS COULD BE YOUR FUTURE! And eerily enough, with more and more politicians and conservative women fighting to strip away rights from other women, Gilead could pretty much become a reality. Whenever one perpetuates rape culture or slut-shames, we’re allowing a future like that to manifest.
Serena Joy, in the novel, is the Commander’s wife in which Offred if the Handmaid to. In her former life, Serena Joy was a conservative religious TV personality. The irony is, that Serena Joy got exactly what she preached for, but at the same time, her rise to fame wouldn’t have occurred if she hadn’t been living in a democratic republic. But, once things began to spin out of control, it was too late for Serena to regret the change she herself had perpetrated.
One of the most chilling quotes from the novel is spoken by Aunt Lydia who tells her handmaids in training, “ This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will.” And that’s where the horror lies. The new society hopes that future girls won’t question their fate, because they won’t have a recollection of a time before, nor would they have access to books to know that such a time ever existed.
With this novel, Atwood wants women to wake up and see that as the Commander tells Offred, “Better never means better for everyone…It always means worse for some.” People like Paul Ryan are hoping that you tire of fighting so that they can have a better society that betters their lives but would ultimately make yours worse.
In the novel, we never know what became of Offred. But if there’s one thing we can take away from Atwood’s novel is this: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.” (Don’t let the bastards grind you down). Fight on and fight hard.
By: Azzurra Nox