Due to the upcoming release of The Handmaid’s Tale television show in the UK, I figured a good first post would be an analysis of the recent revival of The Handmaid’s Tale in the wake of recent political events.
Originally published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a dystopian society in which women’s rights have been stripped from them and they have been reduced to their primary reproductive functions. Now, over 30 years on, Margaret Atwood’s novel is experiencing a revival, soaring to the top of Amazon’s Bestsellers list. The most likely reason for this? Trump’s presidency.
The rise of Donald Trump to become the 45th President of the United States has sparked worldwide controversy. His strictly conservative views and frequently sexist opinions have inspired a backlash from all genders that culminated in the Women’s March in January. Furthermore, consisting almost entirely of white males, the lack of diversity in Trump’s cabinet mirrors the cabinet of Ronald Reagan, who, coincidentally, was president at the time Atwood first wrote The Handmaid’s Tale.
One of Trump’s first acts of presidency was to restrict women’s reproductive rights with his anti-abortion bill. Frighteningly, this seems to mirror the issues raised in The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel concerned with reproductive rights and women’s autonomy over her own body. The dystopian future depicted in the novel may seem a far cry from Trump’s controversial anti-abortion policies, but Atwood herself claims that this is only the beginning; a “bubbling up” of ideologies that exist to oppress women. This is seen in The Handmaid’s Tale, where gender-based monetary restrictions evolve into nightmarish rituals that exist in Republic of Gilead; thus, Atwood’s own prediction of a “bubbling up” is haunting.
It seems like history is doomed to repeat itself, and, as Atwood herself states, she “did not put anything into the novel that human beings hadn’t actually done.” Her novel is based on historical violations of human rights. One example of this is the Ceausescu regime’s extreme pro-natalism and “birth promotion”. Ceausescu made pregnancy a strict policy for Romanian women. He outlawed abortion and contraception, and would have women questioned by state officials if they were unable to conceive. Sounds familiar, no?
In addition to this, Trump’s refusal to acknowledge climate change has also raised concerns. This, too, increases the topicality of The Handmaid’s Tale, as the environmental pollution is significant in the rise of the Republic of Gilead. The diseased and radioactive land due to “chemical and biological warfare stockpiles… toxic-waste disposal sites… and the uncontrolled use of chemical… sprays” (p.317) is at the root of the reproductive issues in women. The environment has had a detrimental effect on fertility, causing panic, which was then utilised by a totalitarian government to gain control; eventually leading to the classification and exploitation of women based on their fertility.
With the rise of the pro-life movement, climate change cynics, and anti-feminists that have been enabled and encouraged by Trump’s policies, it is no wonder that women are feeling anxious about their rights. The Handmaid’s Tale’s surge in readership is due to its enduring relevance. It can be viewed as a cautionary tale, prophesising a future that is possible if people like Trump prevail.
Thank you for reading an let me know what you think in the comments!
And for those that are interested… Further Reading:
Lozada, Carlos, “Donald Trump on Women, Sex, Marriage and Feminism”, Washington Post, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2015/08/05/donald-trump-on-women-sex-marriage-and-feminism/?utm_term=.cb4801faebc9
Sharman, Jon, “Margaret Atwood says rise of Trump has made The Handmaid’s Tale popular again”, Independent, at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/margaret-atwood-handmaids-tale-puritan-values-donald-trump-republican-party-abortion-a7575796.html
Atwood, Margaret, “For God and Gilead”, The Guardian, at https://www.theguardian.com/music/2003/mar/22/classicalmusicandopera.fiction
McGrath, Matt, “Trump’s ‘control-alt-delete’ on Climate Change Policy”, BBC, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38746608