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“Yesterday’s news that Margaret Atwood would be writing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, her venerated 1985 feminist dystopian novel, was met with a chorus of excitement online—unsurprising, given how Atwood’s best-known work has become an uncannily prescient rubric for life in America under Donald Trump and the right-wing GOP (so much so that people found Handmaid’s resonances in Melania Trump’s White House Christmas decorations this year). But what will we really get out of reviving the Handmaid’s story?
I came to The Handmaid’s Tale relatively late—I only read it after it was announced that it would be made into a Hulu adaptation—but the novel knocked me off my feet. Reading Atwood’s work soon after Trump was elected—in the wake of his announcement that he would be trying to defund Planned Parenthood and had designs to overturn Roe v. Wade—felt horribly surreal.
The way the novel’s setting reflects the worst aspects of society (and our fears about where it could take us) is exemplary of dystopian fiction. It is cathartic, even satisfying, to see a hyperbolic version of our world, to air out the worst of our problems while reassuring ourselves that at least we don’t have it as bad as the characters (yet); it explains why women, especially, have used The Handmaid’s Tale as a kind of visual and cultural language for calling out the Trump administration’s draconian, sexist policies. Protesting in front of the White House in red Handmaid robes and bonnets is to say, “We know what you’re trying to accomplish,” even if, on the outside, it still looks like democracy.”
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