10.11.10

The Handmaid's Tale celebrates 25th Anniversary

Woman's Hour discusses Margaret Atwood's dystopian science fiction classic
Margaret Atwood is interviewed on BBC's Woman's Hour
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Margaret Atwood’s landmark science fiction novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Winner of numerous awards, including the 1986 Booker Prize, the novel imagines an alternative America of the near future. Set in the Republic of Gilead, where pollution has sterilized most of the female population, a class struggle arises for the ownership and dominion over women who remain fertile. The protagonist, Kate, is captured while attempting to cross the border into Canada with her family. As she is unaffected by pollutants, she is separated from her husband and daughter, and becomes an enforced surrogate mother for another family. Her name is changed to Offred and she becomes a Handmaid, a mutated functionary of Old Testament values, expected to provide children for a Commander and his wife.

Atwood’s dark reflections on gender roles and sexual politics are often read as a satirical snapshot of the 1980s American landscape, and the novel has since become a central text in the classroom. In 1990, her dystopian vision found its way onto the silver screen, starring Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. We might even see some trace of the book’s influence on contemporary Hollywood today, in dystopic science fiction enterprises like Children of Men (2006). The themes of the novel, which run from ecological catastrophe, to human rights, to religious fundamentalism, are perhaps more relevant now than ever, and have assumed a new kind of political urgency. The Handmaid’s Tale is a cautionary book. In a tradition that includes Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Margaret Atwood’s warning of the future is perhaps just as much a warning for the present.

Also published on The Spectator Book Blog

Woman's Hour celebrates the Anniversary

BBC Radio 4 celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of Magaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale on Woman's Hour: 'Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale imagines a future America under the violently oppressive rule of a far-right Christian sect. Women are back in the home and divided into domestic and reproductive functions, branded by coloured robes. They are banned from working, having money, or even reading and writing, and the fertile are forced to provide children for the elite, on pain of death. The book was a huge global success and is still regarded as a ground-breaking work of fiction. 25 years on, Margaret Atwood speaks to Jenni about why its central message has never been more relevant, with the journalist and literary critic Alex Clark.' [Read more]

Source: Woman's Hour, BBC Radio 4, 10 November 2010