First published more than thirty years ago, the novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has spawned a feature film, an opera, and now, a television series. It may seem a little late to review the book, but I will do so in the hope of providing a somewhat different perspective.
For anyone who is totally unfamiliar with the work, it takes place a little more than a hundred years from now, where a theocracy has been established in New England. The main character is a ‘handmaid,’ which translates primarily into human brood mares.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has been compared to Orwell’s ‘1984’ as it depicts a dystopian future where ‘freedom’ is seen as a bad thing. The two differ in many ways, but world of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is guided by a very specific agenda. Whereas 1984 was about repression, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is about a very specific repression, that is, repression of sex, particularly women.
The Republic of Gilead is similar to most fundamentalist theocracies in its repression of sex. To this day there are places where the legal penalty for adultery is death by stoning. In North America, things have mellowed a bit since the days of ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ but there are individuals and organizations active whose main reason for being seems to be trying to control the sex lives of others. As ‘mongers,’ we should be aware that the neo-Puritans are still out there, and they are as fervent as ever. If they can come up with a reason to put YOU behind bars for having sex, they will do it. I won’t mention him by name, but most of us are aware of a Florida man imprisoned in a certain country in Central America because he actually talked about going to the country and having sex there.
The book, and it’s offshoots, detail a world where sex is limited to purposes of procreation and then it’s only for the male ‘commanders.’ It’s an ugly and joyless world, and that’s how certain folks would like to see OUR world become. Let us pray it doesn’t.