(Photo from Wikipedia Commons)
The Handmaid’s Tale, originally a novel written by Margaret Atwood in 1985, has been turned into a television series on Hulu. The premise is simple, yet terrifying. In a dystopian future, the majority of the female population has become sterile due to pollution and sexually transmitted diseases. In an effort to save the human race, the United States government is overthrown and replaced with a theocratic military dictatorship, which strips the remaining fertile women of their human rights so that they may, as some characters in the show put it, “fulfill their biological purpose”.
The show follows the struggles of June (played by Elisabeth Moss), a woman who is “lucky” enough to still be fertile, and the horrors she endures under this new government. As a fertile woman, June is given the role of Handmaid. Handmaids are women who have been rounded up against their will, given the option of death or conforming to their new roles in society and, should they choose to conform, are each assigned to a house with a wealthy husband and wife. There the Handmaid’s live with the couple and are expected to carry a child for them, which they will then have to hand over and never see again. This is her only role in this new society, where women are banned from having jobs, owning land, and even prevented from reading. June essentially becomes a modern day slave, stripped of all choice and power.
One of the recurring themes in the show is power and the ways in which power changes overtime and affects the dynamics between characters. An easy way to observe this is the direct power virtually everyone has over June. She is given no say in where she lives, what she wears, what she eats, who she has to carry a child for, or if she even wants to carry a child; the list is endless. June is even stripped of her name, and given the new name Offred. It symbolizes the ownership the husband, Fred, has over her (Of-Fred). She cannot even choose what to be called.
(Photo courtesy of Hulu)
But June starts fighting back and gains power, not in the overt way of, say, overthrowing this new oppressive regime, but by engaging in smaller acts of protest. She uses her position in the household to gain power over Fred, who allows her small pleasures like having drinks after his wife is in bed, reading fashion magazines that are now considered contraband, or playing a game of Scrabble. Offred even begins a relationship with another man so that she may reclaim at least some control and power over her own body.
Many people have said that The Handmaid’s Tale is a stark warning of the possible, scary future America faces because of the war on women’s rights and more. In my opinion, the idea of herding women against their will in an effort to continue the human race under the premise of it being “God’s will”, seems a little too dystopian and far fetched. However, the idea of turning on groups of people and attacking their human rights under the guise of it being for the “greater good” doesn’t sound too dystopian at all.
To me, The Handmaid’s Tale serves as a reminder of the importance of constant civic engagement and vigilance. During the third episode of the series (“Late”) we see that the revolution against the government is slow-growing. First, the Constitution is revoked so the government can better protect its citizens against terrorist attacks. Then, the borders are closed, women’s bank accounts are shut down, women are fired from their jobs and are no longer allowed to own land. Over time, slowly but surely, June and millions of other women in the United States end up loosing their autonomy. The gradual devolution of the American democratic experiment prevented most of its citizens from fighting back for their rights until it was too late.
You can watch all 10 episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. It is a truly wonderful show that I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone, but be warned some of the content matter is heavy and graphic. This is the kind of show that has you squirming in your seat, but always wanting more. How Margaret Atwood, and later, how the writers of this show came up with such awful, torturous tragedies for June and her fellow Handmaiden’s to endure, I will never know. I found that I really needed to take a few days to process what I watched before I could sit down and begin the next episode.
Overall, this is a beautifully written and directed series and the acting from both Elisabeth Moss and the rest of the cast, is absolutely stellar. If Moss doesn’t win an Emmy for her portrayal of June/Offred, I will loose all hope in award shows. I cannot stop singing this show’s praises and the series alone is absolutely worth the cost of getting a Hulu subscription.
So seriously check out the trailer below, and start watching the show (and while you’re at it, become civically engaged if you aren’t already so this never happens to us)!
Ciara Loughnane |Omg I wrote a thing!|KXSU Digital Media Director