The messages of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a college student’s worst nightmare, which makes it all the more necessary that college students read and understand it’s arguments. Some may write it off as another dystopian novel, but Margaret Atwood crafted this novel based on the current socio-political arguments made in the 1980s.
Topics such as nuclear instability during the Cold War, abortion, women’s rights, and the United States’ patriarchal society are still extremely relevant today. Atwood discusses with the Huffington Post how progress is somehow deemed a linear idea. She also states that the novel is still very relevant today. We assume that we cannot move backwards, but to believe that is a naïve perception of the world. We can go backwards.
The year is 2020, and the city of Athens has become a ghost town. All of the bars have been closed down due to prohibition, and only the wealthy males who support the government now attend the University of Georgia. They are trained to become governmental officials, who will obtain wealthy wives, and live a life of comfort.
The only women are taken to the MLC, which would be renamed the ‘Red Center’. These women were chosen due their biology and class. Upper class women were excused from this practice, but the women in the Red Center would become Handmaid’s, birthing machines for upper-class families. They were taken from their families, their children, their education, from everything they held dear.
The devolvement of society began when an extremist group took over the government. They were legally elected by our people, who did not quite understand their agendas. These officials banned abortion, stripped money away from women and gave it to the men in their lives, they banned women from working, and they categorized them into different roles.
The wealthy women became wives to government officials. Second-class women became wives to future government officials. Then there were the handmaid’s who no longer have names but are given titles of the families they birth for: “Offred” translating to “Woman of Fred”.
Sex was no longer an act of pleasure, it was a ritual done for the purpose of creating life. Drinking was outlawed, and the only people allowed to live in luxury were those of the upper class.
However, there is a small place where the wealthy men go to enjoy themselves, it’s a small hotel called the Georgia Center. They are allowed to drink here, and enjoy the pleasures of the Jezebel’s, the last class of women whose jobs are to be prostitutes. They have created a society where only the wealthy men can live and enjoy life.
This is literally a college student’s worst nightmare. No access to education, no access to technology, no drinking, no sex, no liberties of any kind unless you were a wealthy male. A man of little means is sent off to fight for this new society, or tasked with other jobs.
A democracy is only as strong as the people who participate in it. If our people are not educated and are unable to form knowledgeable opinions we will inevitably elect officials who could create this terrible dystopia.
Atwood’s ideas sound extreme, but she makes it clear that the novel’s dystopian society did not happen immediately, it happened over a course of time. However, in the book the government was shot down, and taken over by extremists, but that doesn’t necessarily have to happen. Government officials could legally change the laws to their benefit.
Already the states of Ohio and Texas are working to implement laws that prevent women from having abortions, regardless of whether women have birthing complications, have been raped, or other such atrocities. A woman’s choice has been undermined throughout history, but the decision of Roe v. Wade gave women somewhat of a choice on their bodies.
Women dressed as Handmaids protested in Ohio and Texas against these bills, displaying that to make these bills laws would be to strip the rights of women away. However, without knowledge of the book people would be unable to understand the significance of this protest.
Even the actors in the new Hulu television series are becoming more aware that the novel’s ideas are very much prevalent and possible in our society. Joseph Fiennes, the actor who places Commander Fred Waterford told the Huffington Post that the novel made him a bigger feminist.
The cast even sat down with NowThisPolitics to discuss how relevant the ideas behind the novel are today. They said that nothing that has happened in the novel, hasn’t happened before in the world, and how fragile society can be. They mention how the novel creates a utopia for men, but an apocalypse for women, as the men create a society where only they can win, and women lose.
Let’s do our part as students and try to prevent this possible dystopia from happening. Every student should read “The Handmaid’s Tale”, because without understanding the enemy, we will never be able to defeat them. The novel outlines arguments, and ideas that created the society of Gilead, and creates a blueprint of what happens when we take away rights from women, give in to extremism, and allow the decisions of others to black out our voices.
As college students, this novel represents everything we do not want to happen, and in order to prevent that, we must understand Atwood’s message.