March 27, 2021
Next Tuesday, I begin teaching Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale, so I began rereading it today. I read it for the first time a few years ago—before the Hulu series premiered. I remember being struck by the poetry of the Atwood’s style, the passivity of the Offred, who commits subtle acts of transgression while learning to find her voice again, and the nuanced critique of patriarchy and how it affects and dictates the lives, in varying degrees, of all who fall within its system of control. I think this is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel: all of the characters are victims of the system—and this is especially clear during the Ceremony chapter. In the last sentence of the chapter, Offred asks “Which of us is it worse for, her or me?” The her here is Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, who had a hand in the establishment of Gilead and, ironically, in her own silencing—like a woman who supports a pro-birth agenda. Even the Commander gets no pleasure in doing his duty: “This is not recreation, even for the Commander. This is serious business. The Commander, too, is doing his duty.” While the Commander is obviously in a better position—after all, he is doing the “fucking”—Atwood makes it clear that hierarchal systems built on extreme ideologies oppress all who fall within them. They create true believers and those who live to transgress their dicta—including the higher-ups. I think this is what eventually leads Offred to rebel: when the Commander befriends her and eventually takes her to the party in a later chapter. Offred finally sees what shot Gilead is which gives her the courage she has lacked to do something truly subversive and escape.
I’m already planning on rewatching the first season of the Hulu series again and read the sequel The Testaments. Once the semester’s finished, obviously.