The Handmaid’s Tale 20 Years Removed

[Disclaimer: The following is a review of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and it’s live action interpretation as depicted by Hulu. There are sensitive social and political issues such as sexuality, reproductive rights, and social impact discussed, so if you choose to engage in the discussion, please do so considerately and maturely. There also may be spoilers related to the book/TV series discussed.]

When Hulu announced they were creating a live action series based upon one of Margaret Atwood’s most famed and controversial pieces, The Handmaid’s Tale, I was skeptical because it is such a gritty story to tell. I wanted to wait until I watched the entire first series before giving my thoughts because I wanted to ensure I was reviewing it fairly. My bones are chilled, but my heart is on fire. However, my brush with this particular story started twenty years ago…

the-handmaids-tale-2“Don’t let the bastards grind you down…”

My name is Karen.  This is my story.

In my freshman year of undergrad, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was required reading for my Intro to Literature course. I was eighteen, living away from home for the first time, and quite naive. I couldn’t believe I was forced to read and participate in a class discussion about something that sounded so preposterous! I remember forcing myself to read the story cover to cover, but I had to continuously remind myself I was reading fiction. I was reading fiction, wasn’t I? The world could never really become like Gilead, could it? It had been nearly twenty years since I had given that book a second thought, but every time I heard it’s name whispered, the hairs on the back of my neck shocked to attention.

Perhaps, despite my thinking I knew everything at eighteen, I never believed such a world could potentially exist. It was written in 1985 (I was five), and it was 1997 when I read it. Now, twenty years later, the ever growing popularity of dystopian fiction as a genre as well as the current political climate around the world, youthful doubt has mutated into looming possibility. I didn’t know that reading a single book in 1997 would shape my upper division coursework. When I switched from Telecommunications to English, the vast offerings at UF provided me with an opportunity to take courses cross-referenced with several departments, including Women’s Studies. I took classes studying women in film, popular culture, modern and classical Japanese women writers, feminist theory, creative writing and digital identity.

“Now, I am awake…” (Hulu; 2017)

Throughout my final years at university, I discovered my hidden feminist. As a child, I was an overachiever because I wanted to be treated as an equal, but as an adult, I am motivated to see that everyone is treated equally. I have an obligation to prevent situations like Gilead from happening. While I have no human children of my own, I would hate to see them grow up in a world devoid of bright futures for everyone. Some may wave a dismissive hand at series and books like Handmaid’s, but I feel like those are the ones who could be in for a potentially devastating reality check should something akin to it becomes reality.

I’m not saying that it will happen, but never rule out the possibility nor be afraid to speak out against it. I am no longer willing to ignore what is happening around me.

Twenty Years Later

Wednesdays quickly became one of my favorite days of the week because it was the day that Hulu released new episodes! The casting for the series was excellent included Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Feinnes, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley. The costuming and set design was outstanding, and I was thrilled to see Atwood listed as one of the series’ producers, meaning while it may be a departure from the original book, she is around to reign in any potential situations which may discredit her original work. This isn’t the first time The Handmaid’s Tale has been made into a film or television series, but it is most certainly the most vivid visual telling of the story I have ever seen.

Nerdsplanation of Handmaids on Hulu: America is gone. Peggy Olsen (Mad Men), Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), & Poussey Washington (Orange is the New Black) are forced into servitude. FBI Special Agent Mark Benford (FlashForward) and his wife, CIA Agent Sarah Walker (Chuck) are key players in the rise of the new state of Gilead, a totalitarian and Christian fundamentalist government in a future where most of the world is sterile and the ability to have children comes at a very high cost.

Photos of the High Line Installation via Flickr Commons

When I went to New York last month for Mother’s Day, we were scheduled to hit up the High Line. I was stoked because I knew they had a limited installation celebrating the launch of the series entitled “NOLITE TE BASTARDES CARBORUNDORUM”. Visitors were able to pick up complimentary copies of Atwood’s book with a new cover featuring Elisabeth Moss, as Offred. Unfortunately, our trip was two weeks too late! The photos I’ve seen of the installation were tasteful yet jarring, giving me goosebumps every single time. The best part? The success of Hulu’s original series has lead to a new generation picking up Atwood’s work not because they are obligated by academics, but because they are inspired by the series.

libraryLooks like I’ll be buying my own copy unless I can unearth my original!

For those wishing for an in depth annotation by the author herself, I insist that you dive deep with Margaret Atwood’s contribution to the New York Times’ Watching column. (read: spoilers) My only regret was not plucking up the courage to talk to Ms. Atwood when I saw her at the ALA Convention last summer. (She was standing right in front of me, but I was completely star struck.)

Although, I don’t want to plow through the rest of 2017 too quickly, Hulu’s scheduled to release season two of The Handmaid’s Tale in 2018! This leaves at least six months for me to raid my garage and find my old copy from undergrad in my boxes or order myself a new copy. It’s been twenty years since my first brush with book, but I think it’s time to read up and give my brain something to chew on this summer!

Answer Me, These Questions Three

  1. Have you ever read or seen any version of The Handmaid’s Tale?
  2. Would you flee your country if a situation like this happened?
  3. Would you be able to fight for others trapped in a similar situation?

One thought on “The Handmaid’s Tale 20 Years Removed

Add yours

  1. I am so excited to watch this show! I didn’t read the book until a few years ago and even then it seemed a it farfetched. Now, with the disaster that was the election and the current government in place, it is beyond scary that this no longer seems like an unrealistic possibility. Have you ever read When She Woke by Hillary Jordan? It’s very similarly themed to The Handmaid’s Tale and a pretty enjoyable read.

    Liked by 1 person

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