Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’ Is Finished With Handmaids

The information could be very a lot on the market that none apart from Aunt Lydia, Gilead’s most terrifying enforcer (within the “girls’s sphere” of fertility and domesticity at the very least), is likely one of the three narrators. It’s a choice that’s the reverse of Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s “first draft” of To Kill A Mockingbird, which stars an alternate, overtly racist Atticus Finch.


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There’s no rewriting her personal literary historical past right here from Atwood, although, merely an in depth attraction, regarding a personality broadly considered monstrous, to contemplate her origin story and the system and rules inside which she has been working all these years. It’s the type of setting straight we noticed in Atwood’s 2005 mythological retelling The Penelopiad.

This is likely one of the methods during which Atwood reconfigures the classifications that the unique set out: Virgin Mary blue for Wives, memeable Mary Magdalene purple for Handmaids, inexperienced for Marthas, brown for Aunts, and so forth. Maybe as a result of the regime is near falling aside, these teams are much less inflexible, everybody’s place in Gilead society appears much less sure, together with the highly effective Commander Judd, who was a part of the preliminary Sons of Jacob coup and sits on the Council. This fluidity, this having some selection within the matter, might also have been required to get the plot the place it wanted to go.

Nonetheless, it’s intriguing to see who is assessed, how they’re categorised and who doesn’t get a glance in. Marthas (Gilead’s feminine home servant class) nonetheless don’t get a lot of a story in The Testaments, although that’s not a shock, and an Angel (male guard) jokes that there’s two forms of girls “sluts” and “ugly ones”. It’s tough not to consider the incel group’s divvying up of women and men into ‘muscular, well-liked’ Chads, ‘enticing’ Stacys and ‘common trying’ Beckys.

Atwood has mentioned that a part of the inspiration for The Handmaid’s Story got here from studying canonical tales about utopias and dystopias which featured completely male protagonists and “ornamental” girls who usually weren’t sporting many garments. Once more, The Testaments doesn’t go down the route of overly feisty, rebellious Handmaids to overcompensate. It opens with the dry description of a statue by the lady it was made to honor: “Already I’m petrified.” Ladies could be “treasured flowers” or pearls however they’re additionally advised tales about witches.

In an analogous means, although discussions of our bodies, bodily fluids, and ladies’s obligation to take care of them are actual and current—“that thick purple data”—Atwood clearly didn’t really feel obliged to do an excessive amount of of a Half Two on being pregnant, maybe as a result of different writers equivalent to Megan Hunter, with The Finish We Begin From, and Louise Erdrich, with Future Residence of the Residing God, have not too long ago taken on being pregnant and dystopia.

The Handmaid’s Story’s coda The Twelfth Symposium ends with the road ”Are there any questions?” and, in line with Atwood within the acknowledgements of the sequel, the query that “got here up repeatedly” from readers over the previous 35 years was: How did Gilead fall?

Offred was largely restricted to minor however significant acts of riot within the 1985 ebook. And if there’s one overarching tonal distinction it’s the frequency and scale at which the ladies of The Testaments actively query and disobey the principles. They must, in fact, as from the outset, this was all the time designed to be the account of disastrously extraordinary occasions for the Gilead undertaking, whereas Offred’s story, we’re led to consider, was being repeated in houses throughout the nation.

With one sickeningly inevitable selection Atwood has made, The Testaments is even darker, however for many of the ebook these three specific narrators are shielded from the very, very worst of Gilead both by way of childhood innocence, some restricted private energy, or the actions of different girls. As such, none have fairly the uncooked depth of Offred’s shock journey from common American girl to Handmaid concubine in a sinister theocracy, although one of many strands does pose juicy questions round survival, complicity, and manipulation when all the alternatives round you’re unhealthy.

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