I Would Be Dead

The Handmaid’s Tale & The Testaments Make That Clear

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As Christmas gifts to me, The Powerhouse purchased The Handmaid’s Tale, (The Graphic Novel) and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. Having watched all three seasons of the Hulu series and now patiently waiting for the fourth, I wanted to read the books, both of them. If you are like me and you had not been introduced to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in grade school or college, reading this book could lend some undeniable feelings of extreme fear without ceasing.

The fictional tale of the ever-evolving Dystopia depicts both men and women in ways that I find unspeakable. There are hierarchies within hierarchies and distinguishable sects among the women and men of Gilead. The Powerhouse and I go back and forth on the things that we know we couldn’t see ourselves doing while watching the series.

A thrashing event here, a hanging there, a woman beaten for being a “gender traitor,” a Handmaid passed on from house to house or destroyed if she cannot fulfill her duties of producing a child for a Commander and his Wife. With our “flippant mouths” and our privileged ways of living in this near-Dystopian-society, on The Wall, is where we’d surely be placed in Gilead.

After reading The Handmaid’s Tale, my thoughts ran rampant. Reading the book versus watching the series are two totally different experiences. I watch the series and I yell, scream, and want to kick some of the aggressors. While reading the book, the pain inflicted is greater. I said out loud at one point, “I would be dead in the first chapter.” Everyone is found out and as soon as the gift of my not being able to give Gilead another little Angel or Guard or Commander or Wife is evident on top of the fact that I flit in relationships between genders, and I tend to speak my mind, my presence would not be tolerated.

There is no “in the closet” in Gilead. If one is, one is swiftly removed from it and punished for even considering straying from what they think God’s path for everyone is.

I would quickly be excised from their society — removed without question or empathetic remorse. This is frightening and reminds me of how bits and pieces of our current nation are moving towards this model more than I think we would like to believe.

Photo by Elizabeth Brockway via The Daily Beast

The Handmaid’s Tale offers us the introduction to Gilead — its turmoil and crushing ways of belittling the human race by placing labels on everyone fitting a certain model. There is no input from them, no interviews for the perfect role, and no deciding on what it is they want for themselves. One is forcefully planted into this society without consent and urged to adapt quickly or suffer. If deviating from their plan and vocalizing one’s own beliefs is apart of one’s characteristics, then it is boldly beaten out of you until you either succumb to what is required or you are killed.

Atwood has such an incredible way of weaving the characters into the reader’s mind. She is charismatic in language, bold where it is needed, and gentle when the scene calls for it. What she casually puts down in The Handmaid’s Tale, she fervently expounds on in The Testaments. Here, we get a glimpse at the resiliency of The Aunts and the crippling demands of their duties in Gilead.

They are the secret-bearers, they can make or break you.

And everyone who has been in Gilead for quite some time knows this. Atwood focuses on three main characters who confess their lifestyles, roles, and actions & duties in Gilead. We get to take a walk in their shoes and look deeper into their existence and the why behind it. Some people, those we would have never guessed, end up being Mayday allies who are secretly yearning for their own exit out of Gilead or a revolution that ends it.

Aunt Lydia, Baby Nicole/Jade, and Agnes Jemima/Hannah Bankole (aka Aunt Victoria) are our guides.

I found myself cheering while reading and smirking at passages when a Commander, Wife, or Aunt gets their comeuppance. Atwood makes it easy for one’s emotions to be permanently set on high. The graphic detail and explanations of some of the Corrections issued by Aunt Vidala or the Particicutions conducted by The Handmaids leave the blood boiling and the reader wanting more of this gruesome tale.

In The Testaments, we learn of Baby Nicole’s return and her purpose in bringing about the revolution and the great downfall of Gilead along with her half-sister Agnes. Both are the daughters of June Osborne (aka Offred). Aunt Lydia, the Head Aunt in Charge, grows tired of Gilead and its wicked ways. She secretly vows to watch it crumble, bring about the revolution, or die while trying.

I am moved by Atwood’s ability to lure the reader in without trying hard to do so. Each novel is written flawlessly and even places a small amount of fear deep in my spirit of how this nation — this world could easily shift into one big Gilead. What’s clear to me and what was clear from the start of The Handmaid’s Tale is that I would not have survived Gilead. I would have been labeled a “gender traitor,” sent to the Colonies or to Jezebel’s or ended up on the wall for my inability to adapt or conform.

I found each book easy reads, but I wanted to savor them, and not rush through them so as to not miss anything pertinent. As I do with most books, I will re-read them as time presses forward. For now, I will say to you, if you are into suspense, drama, action, and tales of uprisings and the downfalls of dictatorships and hellish societies, both of these books are my recommendations for you.

My testament? I am happy to not be a child of Gilead.

©2020 Tremaine L. Loadholt

Is “The Handmaid’s Tale” a prediction? That is the third question I’m asked — increasingly, as forces within American society seize power and enact decrees that embody what they were saying they wanted to do, even back in 1984, when I was writing the novel. No, it isn’t a prediction, because predicting the future isn’t really possible: There are too many variables and unforeseen possibilities. Let’s say it’s an anti-prediction: If this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen. But such wishful thinking cannot be depended on either. — Margaret Atwood on What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Means in the Age of Trump

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