The Handmade's Tale - a Powerful Story Reminding Us the Dark Moments of History
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's famous book, was published in 1985.
The story became even more famous after Hulu's TV series based on it. It is a dystopian story, we know it. However... aren't there those moments you feel the practices against the handmaids described in the book and depicted in the show remind you of something?
Margaret Atwood never kept it secret.
The Handmaid's Tale is based on numerous inhumane practices against women from the antiquity to the 20th century - yes, though! Atwood's iconic work is clearly a manifesto against the oppressors of this world, in the past, present time and the years to come. After all, as the writer has said, we shouldn't be relieved those are days of the past and impossible in places like the West - as many may suggest it's only the East that should worry.
So, what was the writer's inspiration for the dystopian world of Gilead and The Handmaid's Tale?
In The Handmaid's Tale, as you probably know, the handmaids are destined to be raped by the powerful men of the regime and then carry their babies. After giving birth to the baby, they are forced to leave in the hands of the man's family and go to their next "employer" - where the same thing will happen. The purpose is that the regime guarantees its continuation with generations formed the way it wishes - ethically and genetically.
In order to write The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood collected numerous articles from the newspapers and magazines - it wasn't the time you could just google anything and find out about it! The articles had to do with the authoritarian regimes and their oppressive practices against women. Sometimes though, they also were about democratic states legislating despicable strategies against women characterized as "immoral".
Margaret Atwood has used references from the Bible. It's in Christianity's fundamental book we meet the practice of couples using other women - their slaves usually - as a "vessel" so they get over obstacles like infertility. Yes, that's rape! But who would care back then! The even craziest thing however is that God appears to be ordering and blessing such things. Not to mention, God appears to order the humans to grow their population.
The Handmaid's Tale is based on examples from other religions and nations too. We can't doubt one of Islam's suggested practices, like polygamy. A man can marry up to four woman - usually - in order to have as many children as possible. This used to be the case in countries like Japan as well. The practice here finds ground in one misleading, oppressive but also still strong theory in most places of the world - and definitely in the least progressive parts of it. According to this theory, a man's masculinity depends on his fertility. In many countries - even places that might surprise you, the implication of infertility is perceived as one of the greatest insults against men. So, women have to carry babies!
Margaret Atwood has also mentioned authoritarin regimes specifically as a source of inspiration. The Nazists had made their opinion on the position of women in society very clear: they were destined to give birth to Aryan men meant to serve the Nazi regime. One of the regime's numerous despicable acts was to use women the way handmaids are used in The Handmaid's Tale. Hitler, however, wasn't the only one to dictate such tactics. Margaret Atwood has more than once mentioned another oppressor, Nicolae Ceausescu. Nicolau Ceausescu's regime in Romania faced women as wombs forced to carry Romanians who will make the country richer - and serve Ceausescu apparently. Every woman under his rule had to give birth to at least four children and was tested every month for this purpose. Wasn't she pregnant, she had to explain herself.
The Handmaid's Tale however has also references inspired by Ronald Reagan's presidency and his close ties to the ultra conservative religious groups of the US. We can't overlook the references noticed to the horrifying witch trials on both sides of the Atlantic. We can't overlook the references to real women, usually single and indigenous women, who were forced to deliver their babies for adoption in South and North America or Australia, or the oppressind American Plan incarcerating "immoral" women in the early 1900's in the sake of the "common good". Likewise, we can't overlook the example of women fighting for their rights in the late 19th and the 20th century.
An article is too small to fit all the real-world references to The Handmaid's Tale or any other possible inspiration for Margaret Atwood iconic work. What I would like to conclude by, is something the writer has said on her work. She started with a "what if..." to introduce her dystopian world to readers. But we can't know when the time for the dystopian to become real-world will come, or which side it could come from. So, we should never rest assured. Especially women, whose rights are hideously under attack once again.