One overarching theme of the past couple of years is female representation in film and television. One of the projects that has stemmed from this feminist movement was the Hulu television series The Handmaid’s Tale, which came out in April of last year and was based on the 1986 novel by Margaret Atwood. Usually, we get the same response when asking the question “did you like the book or the movie (or in this case TV series) better”. The unanimous response is usually the book is always better. When asking my friends and classmates about The Handmaid’s Tale, however, the responses were quite mixed.
The novel was playfully named after Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer features multiple “tales” of people in different social and occupational positions during the Middle Ages. Atwood takes her own spin on one of these tales and turns it into a story of a young woman in the near future of what is today the northeastern United States. It is a story of strength and feminism, but something that I found particularly interesting about the novel, was that is was not necessarily about heroism. Atwood used her main character, Offred, to symbolize the human condition, exactly how it would be in real life. She did not glorify her characters or make her story more action-filled just to appeal to readers. She wanted her story to appeal in a different way, by getting the readers to relate to this character.
Offred is a handmaid, which in her society means she is apart of a wealthy household and has one job: to provide that family with a baby. She was once apart of the western society we now know today, but her government was overthrown and she, and many other women, were stripped of their rights, taken from their families, and forced to take on this new role. The novel follows her through her past and present experiences, and we soon learn she is not a perfect person: she does immoral things, makes mistakes, and feels normal human emotions like fear and sadness. She is no hero, she is just a person with regular thoughts and actions. This makes her relatable and thus likable to readers.
On the other hand, the film and television industry wants drama, action, and heroes, so yes, they do dramatize the story to appeal to their audiences. Not to say this is a bad thing if done correctly. The Hulu series does a beautiful job of adapting the original story and adding bits and pieces to make it their own. Watching the series, it is exactly how I pictured their society to be and how the characters would look like. The directors added more intense scenes and created more detailed storylines for characters, especially with two of the other handmaids: Ofglen and Ofwarren, who had very little mention in the novel. The one thing that I noticed about Offred’s character, though, was that she was depicted as a heroine and a feminist icon. I think this is both positive and negative. Negative because they completely changed the persona of the original character Atwood wrote her to be, but positive because the public needs to see more Heroines on screen. Because of this, the positive most definitely outweighs the negative.
So, my personal consensus is that you should both read and watch The Handmaid’s Tale. Both are unique and both tell a female-centric story that has political and social relevance to today. If you have not already heard, season 2 premieres in one month, so take advantage of Hulu’s 30-day free trial and get binge-watching!