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Why you need to watch The Handmaid’s Tale right now

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Trigger warning: mention of rape and violence

Prime’s weekly release of the new season of the Handmaid’s Tale seemed like an appropriate time to preach the need to either binge watch the entire series if you haven’t watched it, or catch up with the latest episodes.

For those who have no clue, the series is based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood. Importantly, although an amazing read, it is not necessary to have read the novel to appreciate this series; so, there are no excuses to avoid watching it. To make a brief summary, the USA has been overturned into a new state called ‘Gilead’, and society is divided into factions based on social class. The whole movement is justified by the leaders with writings from the Bible, taken out of context. The main character June, or Offred if you know the novel, is deemed a ‘Handmaid’. Handmaids are women from a lower class who are classed as unfit mothers or women who failed their duty. They are assigned to an upper class family, a commander and his wife, where they are ceremoniously raped in order to fall pregnant and carry a baby that will be given to the couple they work for before being sent to the next family. Alarmingly, the entire structure is underpinned with Biblical justification. 

Whilst the series follows the novel fairly rigidly at first, the series goes beyond Atwood’s plot, following June after the termination of the novel’s plot and rendering in additional speculations that Atwood leaves to the reader’s imagination. Despite the additional story line of the series, that doesn’t follow the novel, Atwood’s political message is still retained as the novelist herself was involved in the production of the television series.  Along with the retention of the political message, Atwood’s promise in the novel that ‘nothing went into it that had not happened in real life somewhere at some time.’ She claimed that the reason she established that rule is because she ‘didn’t want anybody saying, ‘You certainly have an evil imagination, you made up all these bad things.’’. In this way, the seemingly ‘dystopian’ story is actually not so dystopian but rather a true reflection; disturbingly, Atwood and the series’ producers were able to establish an entire thriller using dangers inspired by real life events.  

So, following every horrified gasp at the overt, unjust violence on the screen, is the even more horrific reminder that this is not so far out of reality as it may appear. It is this necessary echo of Atwood’s promise of adherence to reality, that truly provides both the novel and the series with its chill-worthy nature. This makes each act of violence, every depiction of rape, FGM, murdering of innocent characters, and lack of help from neighbouring countries more chilling. This is because it cannot be disconnected from while watching it, or dismissed as ‘only on TV’; the series only displays images of real events, whether dramatised or not, that people have really experienced, to really invoke the anger of the viewer. And, to worsen the injustices displayed, is the fact that it is not a group of rebels that cause this, but the actual law of Gilead, so no higher powers can be called upon to resist it.

One of the most striking features throughout this series is the sorority amongst the Handmaids, even to the point of sacrificial love. Subtle hand squeezes, hidden smiles and whispers of encouragement between them, in their silent support of each other in the most treacherous of situations, are the goose-bump moments that demonstrate the unimaginable strength conjured through the unity of women, in a place where women have no place. Amazingly, in this way, the drama creates a paradox; it demonstrates the highest potential of women’s mental and physical strength, during their most violent oppression. It appears that their lack of social power unlocks this sororal power, creating an inspiration from a failure. Hence, it exposes the potential female core, the perseverance through pain, the maternal instinct and the power in numbers. The show undeniably creates either a pride to be, or an awe of, women. Ultimately, the series is demonstrative of what women who support each other are capable of, how a group of angry, united women can break down outdated and unjust rules, whether social or political. Although extreme, this sets an example that everyone should either follow or fear. How the world can’t function without feminine input.

No doubt, although executed perfectly, to say the show is merely political is reductive. If the feminist topics didn’t serve as reason enough to watch it, further points in The Handmaid’s Tale’s favour are the explorations of love triangles, gore, sex, and the most loathsome of villains, all while awakening the feminist within us. In short, this series is an absolute must-see, a cinematic modern classic and I urge anyone who has not yet watched it, to do so ASAP.

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Scarlett Wood

Nottingham '23

Third Year English Student at University of Nottingham ❤️