Margaret Atwood Handmaid Tale Essay

People—not only women—have sent me photographs of their bodies with phrases from being the most frequent.The book has had several dramatic incarnations, a film (with screenplay by Harold Pinter and direction by Volker Schlöndorff) and an opera (by Poul Ruders) among them. I did not anticipate any of this when I was writing the book.Perhaps that was because I thought I knew where it was going, and felt no need to interrogate myself.

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The deep foundation of the United States—so went my thinking—was not the comparatively recent 18th-century Enlightenment structures of the Republic, with their talk of equality and their separation of Church and State, but the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th-century Puritan New England—with its marked bias against women—which would need only the opportunity of a period of social chaos to reassert itself.

Like the original theocracy, this one would select a few passages from the Bible to justify its actions, and it would lean heavily towards the Old Testament, not towards the New.

But Gilead is the usual kind of dictatorship: shaped like a pyramid, with the powerful of both sexes at the apex, the men generally outranking the women at the same level; then descending levels of power and status with men and women in each, all the way down to the bottom, where the unmarried men must serve in the ranks before being awarded an Econowife.

The Handmaids themselves are a pariah caste within the pyramid: treasured for what they may be able to provide—their fertility—but untouchables otherwise.

On June 10 there is a cryptic entry: “Finished editing but there is no journal commentary on these by me.

On November 16 I find another writerly whine: “I feel sucked hollow.” To which I added: “But functional.” The book came out in the UK in February of 1986, and in the United States at the same time.Since ruling classes always make sure they get the best and rarest of desirable goods and services, and as it is one of the axioms of the novel that fertility in the industrialized West has come under threat, the rare and desirable would include fertile women—always on the human wish list, one way or another—and reproductive control.Who shall have babies, who shall claim and raise those babies, who shall be blamed if anything goes wrong with those babies?It has become a sort of tag for those writing about shifts towards policies aimed at controlling women, and especially women’s bodies and reproductive functions: “Like something out of ” have become familiar phrases.It has been expelled from high schools, and has inspired odd website blogs discussing its descriptions of the repression of women as if they were recipes.In retrospect, and in view of 21st-century technologies available for spywork and social control, these seem a little too easy.Surely the Gilead command would have moved to eliminate the Quakers, as their 17th-century Puritan forebears had done.To possess one is, however, a mark of high status, just as many slaves or a large retinue of servants always has been.Since the regime operates under the guise of a strict Puritanism, these women are not considered a harem, intended to provide delight as well as children. * Three things that had long been of interest to me came together during the writing of the book.It might use the name of democracy as an excuse for abolishing liberal democracy: that’s not out of the question, though I didn’t consider it possible in 1985.Nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren’t there already; thus China replaced a state bureaucracy with a similar state bureaucracy under a different name, the USSR replaced the dreaded imperial secret police with an even more dreaded secret police, and so forth.

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