Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the dystopian 1985 feminist allegory that is on every college Literature 101 reading list, debuts today as a miniseries on Hulu. Already, commentators are noting striking similarities between elements of the book and the realities of life in America under the Trump administration.
If you’re not familiar with the book, The Handmaid’s Tale envisions an America where none but the elite have much in the way of rights, and women have exactly none. Following an attack that kills the president and most members of Congress, a new government takes over. The Republic of Gilead, run by militant Christians, runs the country on the strictest of strict Old Testament principles; specifically, the regime targets the rights of women. They assume their husband’s name completely — two main characters are Offred and Ofglen (“Of Fred” and “Of Glen”). They are forbidden to read. Reproductive rights (birth control and abortion) are completely off the table.
To understand why some pundits view The Handmaid’s Tale as a warning for readers 30 years after it was published, first you have to consider the time frame in which the book was written.
— Quercus USA (@QuercusUSA) April 26, 2017
Back in 1985, the president of the United States was a hardline conservative with wide support from conservative, evangelical Christian voters (the so-called Religious Right), and feminists and social critics were concerned about what the Reagan administration would do to women’s rights. Clearly, the parallels between 1985 and 2017 are obvious.
— Nik Childers???? (@Truckeepix) April 3, 2017
“There has to be some form of punishment for the woman [who has an abortion].”
Meanwhile, the Reagan Era aside, the novel also bears some striking elements to what’s going on in the news today.
Vanity Fair writer Laura Bradley notices another plot element that is as relevant in 2017 as it was in 1985 – perhaps more so, even.
“Surprisingly enough, one of the most foundational parts of the novel’s lore remains topical today: in the TV series, just as in the novel, an insurgent government declares martial law after an attack they blame on Islamic extremists.”
Similarly, star Elisabeth Moss, speaking to Rolling Stone, herself sees parallels between the Trump regime — specifically, its attacks on women’s reproductive rights — as being foreshadowed in Atwood’s book.
“It’s just that now there are actual things happening with women’s reproductive rights in our own country that make me feel like this book is bleeding over into reality.”
If Elisabeth noticed it, so did the average American: Rolling Stone notes that sales of the book rose 200 percent the day after Trump was elected.
In fact, none other than Margaret Atwood herself (who, by the way, is Canadian and wrote The Handmaid’s Tale while living in then-West Germany), sees the parallels. Speaking to the Daily Beast, Atwood says that while she doesn’t see the U.S. becoming the totalitarian regime of her book, she does see a bleak future for women’s rights.
“This might actually happen. Not in quite the same way, not with the same outfits, and probably they will not be able to shut down women reading. But the rollback of rights might well happen.”
One major plot point of the book, which also bears similarities to the worst aspects of the Trump regime, is being left out of the Hulu makeover: In the book, non-whites are absent from the Republic of Gilead, having been forcibly “resettled.” In the Hulu adaptation, a main character — Moira, played by Samira Wiley — is black. Executive producer Bruce Miller explained that having an all-white cast could be off-putting to a modern audience, the racism in the book notwithstanding.
Do you believe that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale serves as a warning for Americans living in the Trump administration?
[Featured Image by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images]