Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Margaret Atwood has a new warning about The Handmaid’s Tale


Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopia – which details a bleak American future where women are forced into a life of sexual servitude and surrogacy –  was first published in 1985, but The Handmaid’s Tale is back at the top of the bestseller’s list in 2017.

This renewed interest in the book is, in part, due to the upcoming TV adaptation, but it’s more than that. In fact, Atwood herself believes that people are turning to her novel now because they are afraid of what the future holds.

Speaking to The Guardian, the 77-year-old author explained: “When it first came out it was viewed as being far-fetched. However, when I wrote it I was making sure I wasn’t putting anything into it that humans had not already done somewhere at some time.”

Read more: The cast for The Handmaid's Tale is beyond incredible

Or, more succinctly, Atwood’s tale is based on real-life events – and she’s warned that history often repeats itself.

“You are seeing a bubbling up of it now,” she said, referring to President Trump’s abortion gagging order. “It’s back to 17th-century puritan values of New England at that time in which women were pretty low on the hierarchy.”

"You can think you are being a liberal democracy but then — bang — you’re Hitler’s Germany"

"You can think you are being a liberal democracy but then — bang — you’re Hitler’s Germany"

The Handmaid’s Tale, as fans of the book will already know, is narrated by Offred, one of Gilead’s few remaining fertile women. As a result of her reproductive status, she finds herself forced into the role of a ‘Handmaid’, where her goal is simple; to produce a baby for The Commander, or be sent to work – and die – in the radioactive colonies.

Her sole hope is to be reunited with the daughter who was taken from her – but, at the end of the novel, Offred’s fate remains unclear. Was she executed by Gilead’s rulers? Or did she manage to escape to Canada, a place considered far safer than the misogynist Republic of Gilead?

It all sounds painfully reminiscent of modern-day America. And, for those who think a dictator that controls women so that they can only serve as slaves, wives, and servants seems far-fetched, Atwood has another warning.

Read more: Why women are always blamed for acts of violence committed against them

“We think as progress being a straight line forever upwards,” she explained to The Guardian. “But it never has been so, you can think you are being a liberal democracy but then — bang — you’re Hitler’s Germany.

“That can happen very suddenly.”

It is not the first time that Atwood has warned us that Trump’s America is in danger of becoming a real-life Gilead. 

During last year’s controversial presidential election, a pair of maps went viral on social media; one showed how the US would look if only men voted, coloured almost entirely in red to represent their affinity for Republican candidate Donald Trump.

The other showed how the US would look if only women voted: almost entirely blue, aka the colour of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic's candidate. 

Addressing the backlash these maps created, Atwood said: “It spawned a hashtag called #Repealthe19th. The 19th Amendment is what gave women the vote. So there are Trump supporters who want to take the vote away from women.

The Handmaid’s Tale [is] unfolding in front of your very eyes.”

Read more: Thousands share sexual assault stories after Donald Trump's misogynist comments

And, in a separate essay, in which she wrote about the success of her 1985 novel, Atwood again explained that the prevailing sense of horror felt throughout her work stems from the fact that it is rooted primarily in reality.

“I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist,” she said.

“The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights: all had precedents.”

The Handmaid’s Tale premieres on Hulu on 26 April.




Donald Trump signs anti-abortion edict – in a room surrounded by men

tv shows 2017.jpg

The 21 best feminist TV shows to watch out for in 2017


The bestselling novel on Amazon right now is scarily apt


Mr. Men and Little Miss have been given an hilarious adult update

Little Miss Shy is taking to Tinder...

by Amy Swales
19 Oct 2017

Philip Pullman interview: author finally reveals inspiration for Lyra

His Dark Materials author speaks to Stylist.co.uk about his new trilogy

by Francesca Brown
19 Oct 2017

Why Instagram poet Rupi Kaur credits her success to female friendship

“I want women to feel powerful in their own skin when they read my work.”

by Sarah Biddlecombe
13 Oct 2017

“Why the world doesn’t need a retelling of 50 Shades - especially now”

Is Fifty Shades empowering or dangerous?

12 Oct 2017

There’s a new Fifty Shades book on the way – with a twist

We'll finally learn what Christian was thinking in Fifty Shades Darker...

by Megan Murray
10 Oct 2017

Reese Witherspoon wants you to read these 5 brilliant books

Here are the five female writers she’s championed in recent months

by Susan Devaney
10 Oct 2017

Ladybird releases hilarious grown-up guide to dealing with a breakup

Heartbroken? You need this

by Sarah Biddlecombe
06 Oct 2017

The first look at Fantastic Beasts 2 has arrived

Muggles, assemble

by Susan Devaney
06 Oct 2017

10 must-read books for October

From short stories to epic journeys

by Sarah Shaffi
29 Sep 2017

Feminist publishers are binning manuscripts addressed to ‘Dear sirs’

"People have to stop thinking there are no consequences to being sexist."

by Moya Crockett
29 Sep 2017