In 1985, famed literary critic and author Margaret Atwood published “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The shockingly dark dystopian novel told the story of Offred, a woman of the new religious fundamentalist government, Gilead, that overthrew what had once been the United States. In Gilead, women are considered property, and those who are found to be fertile are forced to be Handmaidens to high-society families who cannot reproduce. Offred is one such handmaiden who struggles to maintain her autonomy in a world desperate to strip her of any notion of independence.
At that time in the U.S., the gender revolution and the implication of Roe vs. Wade had solidified women’s reproductive rights as their own, and climate instability was a thought almost exclusively reserved for bad action movies. Thirty-five years ago, this terrifying extrapolation was a simple forewarning of the dangers that can ensue, when church and state fail to remain separate.
However, with the recent reproductive legislature found in multiple states and an impending climate conflict, the words of Offred resonate with an all too close for comfort sentiment.
“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”
Since the publication of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood enthusiasts have burned with questions about the chilling world of Gilead, as well as the fate of Offred and her daughter. After nearly 35 years, the sequel to the popular dystopian novel has finally come out, and it does not disappoint. With vivid description and frightening analysis of theocratic regimes, “The Testaments” provides a well-rounded perception of a society not entirely unlike today’s.
The plot of “The Testaments” begins about 15 years after the events of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Gilead remains a powerful religious fundamentalist government that is fueled by intense misogyny and political propaganda. The ins and outs of this hellscape are described by the alternating perspectives of three very different women.
Agnes, a high-born Gilead native is being groomed for marriage at 13 years old. Daisy is a spitfire anti-Gilead activist from Canada whose de-facto parents were assassinated by missionaries dubbed “Pearl Girls.” Finally, the calculative voice of Aunt Lydia from the first novel permeates through “The Testaments,” as she begins to illegally write a memoir that shows the slow corrosion of Gilead from the inside out.
Through the entirety of the book, the reader gains a detailed view into the dystopian heart of Gilead. Cultural norms, societal expectations and everyday life are described in full and provide a level of intricacy to the already complex world woven by Atwood herself.
Each woman’s unique perspective is written with carefully concocted characterization that demonstrates the gnarled entanglement within the Gilead regime. Each chapter is garnished with tones of sardonic humor, fast paced suspense and vague existentialism that forces the reader to ponder the literary extrapolations of modern day issues.
Given her extensive experience in writing socially critical works of literature, it is no surprise that Atwood provides a superbly fashioned sequel to the popular preceding novel. With pensive denotations of a society unbound, Atwood somehow manages to provide snippets of hope in a world that had snuffed out all remnants of the word.
With the publication of “The Testaments,” Atwood solidifies her rightful place amongst socially and politically critical authors like Orwell, Huxley and Hawthorn. With pensive illumination of patriarchal values and manifestations of misogyny within society, Atwood answers long awaited questions about “The Handmaid’s Tale” while simultaneously creating more uncertainties about society today.