The Handmaid‘s Tale was originally written by Margaret Atwood in 1985. The book is set in a fictitious world of Gilead, which is somewhere in the northeastern part of the United States and Canada. The women are suppressed and divided into classes that are determined by men. There is no upward mobility.
The men work and rule the country and are also part of a caste system. The highest echelon of these groups are the commanders. Their wives are the highest order of the women. The handmaids are used for producing the commanders’ offspring once their wives are either too old or downright barren.
The Handmaids wear red, which might symbolize fertility. The wives of the Commanders wear teal, and the aunts, who supervise the Handmaids, wear military brown. There are other classes of women like the econo-wives. They marry the men of lower classes and wear multi-colors. The Marthas, older women who can’t bear children and are not married, wear green and work as servants within the homes of the wealthy commanders.
Offred (or of Fred) is the Handmaiden in the first book The Handmaid’s Tale. She remembers Gilead before the takeover and American life before oppression. She frequently has sex with her commander, or possibly gets raped, while the wife is in bed watching. Offred and the commander begin an affair without the wife.
In The Testaments, the Handmaids are no longer the focus. This time the aunts are the stars, especially Aunt Lydia. The story goes into how the aunts have a sliver of power that grows as they manage the Handmaids and collect dirt on the judges and commanders. Another plot line is MayDay or the resistance group that is trying to fracture Gilead’s political structure.
My Review: Both books have Christian undertones. Although the author is a Christian, her message is clear-the Bible can be manipulated and misused for evil agendas. Gilead is a real place in Palestine, and Martha is a prominant fixture in the New Testament. Atwood also uses the Bible story of Rachel and Leah in a few ways. First, by naming a place in the book’s setting the Rachel and Leah Center. Also, Atwood was clearly inspired by the Biblical story of Jacob’s wives, Rachel and her sister Leah. Rachel is Jacob’s favorite wife, but cannot have children. Leah has no problem. In desperation, Rachel gets her servant Bilhah to fornicate with Jacob for children.
Both books are clearly original, interesting, and brilliant. The clothing worn by the women reminded me of The Scarlet Letter. The book drips with puritanical hypocrisy, yet allows justice to show up in the second book. I never saw the series on Hulu, but really want to after reading the novels. Leave a comment if you read or watched the series!