Can I talk about The Handmaid’s Tale now? It’s hard to do, in the current political climate, but perhaps all the more necessary. It’s not as fun. There’s less ass kicking. But challenging as it is, clearly, I’m not the only one thinking about it. The Handmaid’s Tale was first published in 1985, but suddenly, now, it’s a series on Hulu, a graphic novel, a musical , an opera, a motif at protests, and, disturbingly, a sexy halloween costume. It seems to be calling to people. Have you read it, or encountered it in any other forms? I first read it in high school, and recently listened to the audiobook narrated by Claire Danes (which is excellent— and, if you’ve read it, you’ll understand why it makes such sense as an audiobook). I can’t speak to the musical versions, but I highly recommend the graphic novel— the art is spare and lovely, and the adaptation keeps just the parts that are needed to preserve the message. It’s an approachable way to dip back into the dystopian world of Gilead and the warnings it contains, but without the bleak immediacy I felt from the TV show. And bonus points for female creators (adaptation and art by Renee Nault).
Oof. we’re teetering on that edge of dystopia, aren’t we. So let’s take some lessons from the badass woman at the center of the book. I want to talk about her as a badass female protagonist, but I hesitate to use the assigned name “Offred”, since it wasn’t really her name. Perhaps her name was June— in the novel, it’s not explicitly given, but some readers have deduced through clues that this was her name, and it’s used in the TV adaptation. Atwood has written that she didn’t intend that, but that it fits and readers are welcome to it, so I’ll use it here. June.
June is in a desperate situation, and she responds as a true badass:
-First, she attempts to escape— she sees the danger looming and doesn’t accept that this is OK.
-She keeps her sense of identity and her history when the system tries to dehumanize her. She has been stripped of her child and her partner, but she refuses to forget them— they stay in her mind, and guide her actions.
-She tests boundaries in large and small ways, often. -She joins the resistance, little by little, as she learns about it.
-She records her experience to be listened to and remembered, likely at great personal risk.
This makes me think— we’d all like to think we’d be Dumbledore’s Army, we’d be the Rebel Alliance, we’d be Mayday. Are we, when the rubber meets the road?