The Handmaid's Tale

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Anti-Brett Kavanaugh protesters wearing Handmaid's Tale-style clothing.
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And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
Notwithstanding she shall be saved by childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
The Handmaid's Tale, Chapter 34[1](Actually a quote from 1 Timothy 2:14[2])

The Handmaid's Tale (ISBN 0771008139) is a dystopian science fiction novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, first published in 1985, that presents a scary future in a religious totalitarian society in which women have lost all control over their reproductive lives.

The critical reaction can be summarized as "Oh, this loony Canuck is overreacting about Christian influence in American politi-DEAR GOAT! WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!"

It won the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987.

In September 2019, Atwood published a sequel to the novel, called The Testaments.

Background to the story[edit]

The novel takes place at an unspecified future date following the transformation of the United States into a theocracy called the "Republic of Gilead". The story follows the tribulations of Offred, a "handmaid" who belongs (temporarily) to a man named Commander Fred (hence the name, "Of Fred") living in the area formerly known as Cambridge, Massachusetts.[3] Atwood can critique the control of women's sexuality and reproduction due to the premise that in the book's post-apocalyptic setting, most women have become infertile. Women lose all value as anything but walking incubators. Women are classified by their economic background and their ability to have children. Those that have financial status are, or become, "wives". If a wife proves unable to conceive, her husband is given a "handmaid" whose job is to conceive and bear a child on behalf of the wife. Any handmaid who has had three failed pregnancies is killed. All women are denied any education, and reading is a criminal offense for them.

Some people apparently consider this dystopian (or utopian to a fundamentalist) novel a handbook for how to run a country. "Gender treachery" is met with the death penalty, as are many other crimes. Jews have been forced to convert or get shipped back to Israel, though many (perhaps all) of the transport boats were scuttled; while the "Children of Ham" (as black people are called in Gilead) have been resettled in North Dakota (the novel implies that they are being killed there). And all righteous citizens are safe under the ever-vigilant Eyes of God.

Modern comparisons[edit]

In the Handmaid's Tale, women's only true role is sexual reproduction. For the Elite, sex is not supposed to be an act of pleasure, but a job requiring minimal time spent in the act itself.[note 1] The clear ties to a Puritan existence, where pleasure and sin are conflated, is easily apparent.

Caste system[edit]

Women in Gilead are divided into castes based on their "job":

  • Handmaids (The aforementioned walking incubators) wear red dresses and white "wings" on their heads.
  • Wives wear blue.
  • Maids Marthas wear green.
  • Aunts wear brown.
  • Econowives, wearing a mix of red, blue, and green, serve men who cannot afford a more elaborate harem household.
  • Daughters wear white. (In the sequel, they wear peach in spring/summer, plum in autumn/winter, white for church, and then spring green after they get their period).
  • Jezebels, who are sterilized prostitutes and wear what's standard for their job.
  • And so on.

Why you should read the book, see the movie, or watch the show[edit]


There have been two adaptations of the book.

  • The first, made in 1990, was a film starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall.
  • The second, a TV series on Hulu starring Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Yvonne Strahovski, and Joseph Fiennes, premiered in April 2017. The show is easily the more famous of the two adaptations, winning critical acclaim and helping to put Hulu on the map as a major steaming streaming service and rival to Netflix, especially after it swept the 2017 Emmys with thirteen nominations and eight wins.[4] Ironically, Moss, who plays Offred, is a member of the Church of Scientology, a religion that itself does not have the greatest track record on women's rights, something that hasn't gone unnoticed.[5]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. And exceptionally creepy, no matter the reader's sexual tastes.