The Handmaid’s Tale: A Review
When the Hulu show, “A Handmaid’s Tale,” started two seasons ago, I wasn’t interested. I remember seeing bits and pieces of the movie from the 1980’s and it wasn’t very good. However, as time went on, I kept having friends tell me it is a show that I must watch. Being the faithful reader, I decided to read the book before watching the show. “A Handmaid’s Tale,” is a book that is written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood which came out in 1985. This book chilled me to the bone and I devoured it in one sitting. I decided to go ahead and try the series, which was up to its third episode at this point. I was truly struck by the sheer beauty of the lights, the color, and the camera work. Clearly the setting is as much of a character as the people involved in the story itself. The complex story and the amazing acting is what keeps me coming back again and again, even after I am truly shocked by what I have seen.
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I have gone back and forth about doing a review about this series for two simple reasons. First, everyone else is doing it and it may be getting a bit old for some people. Second, this show is so raw, that it is painful. It is so hard to discuss the subject matters without seeing real life examples and realizing we may not be so far off from Gilead, which is what is left of America after the fall of, well, everything. The book and the series have some major differences, but for the most part, the heart of the story is the same. We hear about the world through a nameless Handmaid in the book, but for the series, they call her June. She is one of the many nameless women who are forced to become a vessel of human life. They say the revolution didn’t happen over night, but by the time they paid attention, it was too late and they had already lost.
While it is never clear at this point what happened, there was a revolt of a group of people who are extremely religious. They were able to overtake the government, killing everyone in their path and setting up their own agenda which is their interpretation of the Old Testament in the Bible. The root cause of this take over how terrible the fertility rates are around the world. They blame many things on this including food, environment, and even lifestyle. Soon, women are forced to be stripped of everything that they are outside of a man. This means they can’t work, use money, shop, or do anything without a man. The laws are strict and many pay with their lives. Women are divided into certain classes and they are expected to perform that role in society for the rest of their lives. The Handmaid is a woman who has given birth to a live child at some point, and is still fertile. A Maratha is a woman who can’t have children and become maids. Wives range from lower class to high officials. An Aunt is a woman who oversees the Handmaids, and is one of the only women legally allowed to be able to read and write. It is forbidden otherwise. Men have less of a class system, but it is still there. They have guards, drivers, lower class men, and high officials that are self proclaimed Commanders. A Handmaid only goes to the high ranking Commanders, and their wives.
One may be asking what a Handmaid does? Sadly, she is forced to live in the home of a Commander and his wife where they have a ceremony once a month. The Handmaid is rapped by the Commander, while his wife holds her down. They are trying as a group to get pregnant, and then if there is a resulting baby, they keep it and kick the Handmaid out. They not only rape her, but then they steal her baby if she gives birth to a living child. When I said before that they strip everything away from women, this includes their name. Their real names are forbidden and while they are serving as a Handmaid they are known and addressed as part of the Commanders name. For example, June’s Commander is named Fred, so she is Offred. (Of-Fred) These women also have other roles such as shopping for groceries for the household, and the occasional stoning to death of a person who broke the law. They also are shown off, and of course treated as objects instead of humans. They have a certain amount of time to stay with a family and get preggo. If they fail to many times, then they are sent off to the Colonies. That is a place that will kill anyone who works there slowly and painfully. This is a bunch of land full of toxic waste. These “bad” women strip the layers of soil until they get to a point where they can use the land to plant food. But they are given nothing to protect them, so their skin, teeth, and nails fall off and the eventually die of cancer or other issues related to this job.
In this world, there is no trust and no friends. Or it least it seems that way. Every move they make is watched by armed guards. If you have stepped one toe out of line, or seem like you did, then you are subjected to either being hung, shot, sent to the Colonies, or they disappear and no one truly knows what happened. People are taught to snitch on one another, which makes is hard for anyone to form a bond to revolt. However, the need to survive and fight is deep and is enough for underground networks to be born. There are many people who escape to Canada, which is a safe haven for anyone in this terrible world. Many people are killed trying to escape, but there are those who make it out including June’s husband Luke, and her best friend, Moria. However, both June and her young daughter, Hannah were taken. In the books, we never find out what happens to Hannah, but in the series we find that she has been adopted in a home, and will be a handmaid when she is old enough.
In the book, we hear this tale through a recorder many years in the future. This whole story is part of a discussion from people around the world, trying to understand this terrible stain of the past. They are trying to keep from repeating the same mistakes. One may point out that June is an unreliable narrator since we only hear her story. However, there are countless recordings from other people who can back several things up. They just can’t find records of June or her family ever existing. That doesn’t mean anything, but can we trust everything that June says to be true? I think the readers and the viewers fell a connection with June and tend to take her at her word. We get small clues in the series that this is also a story that is being told from a future point in time.
There are so many ups and downs involved in this story that it is almost hard to keep watching. However, it brings up so many themes that we need to discuss as a society. It’s so hard because it’s holding a mirror up to our world and seeing that we don’t like what we see, and what could be. For the next post, I will be going into more details and thoughts about specific issues, but I think it’s important to really understand the material before going into the issues of the terrible things brought up in this story. It’s not a story for many women, it’s real life, and that is horrific.
What do you think? Leave your comments with #hmt