“Handmaid’s Tale” Sequel offers New Perspective on Gilead
We’ve all heard of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Some of us have watched the hit Hulu series. A few of us, as budding feminists, chose to read it instead of “Frankenstein” in AP Lit Senior year. (Not that I wouldn’t have read it outside of class, but come on, it was objectively the better option).
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is Margaret Atwood’s 80’s dystopian classic. As much as it has been revered, and deservedly so, the book ends with a lot of questions: how did America transition from its current democracy to the Gilead regime? How did Gilead fall? And what on Earth happened to Offred?
34 years after the release of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Atwood sets to answer (most of) these questions with the sequel “The Testaments”. Unlike “The Handmaid’s Tale” which is told from a single character’s perspective, “The Testaments” benefits from the perspectives of three narrators. All female, these narrators give drastically different perspectives based on their relationship with the Gilead regime: one is a teenager living in Canada, one is a teenager living in Gilead and the third and primary narrator is a respected Gilead official. Although these three women seem far from connected, by the end of this thrilling sequel, their stories are unmistakably intertwined.
Atwood, famous for her feminist approach, did not shy away from her roots in “The Testaments”. Although the fictional regime is incredibly hyperbolic, the way Gilead’s inception was portrayed made it seem horrifyingly possible. One day you’re working as a sucessful female judge, the next you’re being forced to execute fellow women in what used to be a football stadium. Sounds crazy, but Atwood makes you believe it.
Without giving too much away, each narrator is saddled with a unique challenge. One has to escape from child marriage, one has to play an integral role in a spy mission that she never asked for and one finally makes her attempt to topple the misogynistic pseudo-theocracy since her role in its inception.
As you may have gathered, one of these narrators is drastically more interesting and well-rounded than the others. The previously known, Aunt Lydia’s ingenious plots and constant conniving made her the stand-out voice of the trio of narrators. Although entertaining and surprisingly realistic, the two teenage voices just don’t stack up to the powerhouse “Handmaid’s Tale” veteran, how could they?
I was excited for the release of “The Testaments” and generally satisfied with the ending, but it was not at all what I was expecting for a sequel to that classic book. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an incredibly powerful story that deeply entrenches readers into Offred’s isolation, and the passivity and narrow perspective of the narrator is what made that book such a fresh take on dystopian fiction. Atwood’s choice to never reveal Offred’s real name allows the reader to ask themselves, what if it were me? Would I really have the guts to fight for anything other than survival?
“The Testaments” is far more optimistic and boasts a very post-Hunger Games era plot, placing teenage girls on the front lines of the revolution. This sequel does not pack the same screaming-in-silence punch as its famous predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an enjoyable read. Even at 80 years old, Atwood has still got it.
The decision to make “The Testaments” a victorious tale of overthrowing facism was very “with-the-times” of Atwood. With a near constant negative news cycle and a conservative White House, women are craving a little bit of hope. In that respect, “The Testaments” delivers.
Regardless of its criticism, “The Testaments” was a much needed wake-up call that action will not be taken unless we, as women, decide to take it. Nobody is going to stand up for us. We have to work our way up through the ranks and make changes from the inside. Although it is unlikely that “The Testaments” will go down in history as a literary classic as its mother novel did, it was nonetheless a satisfying expansion on the world of “The Handmaid’s Tale”.