When writing The Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood once said “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.”
Everything you see, everything you read in Ms Atwood’s book, has happened in some place or time.
Hold that thought.
The women were told to wear red, their clothes provided. Red indicating their fertility, the job that they were to fulfil. They were given white wings to wear, almost like a bonnet. Made to ensure that the women saw only what was in front of them. Their peripheral vision removed. Temptations removed. Each woman was given the choice of keeping one red garment from their previous life. Our protagonist June, has her red sweatshirt. A comfort blanket in a way from a time where life was happier, simpler.
These women were the Handmaids of Gilead.
Season one of The Handmaids Tale introduced us all to Gilead, a dystopia formed by the Sons of Jacob, who wanted to fix the infertility problems that were being faced. Their theory…go back to simpler times. Remove the sins of modern day America and create a new hierarchy, one that favours the men.
Commanders were the fundamentalist sons of Joseph who created Gilead. There were also ‘eyes’; ‘guardians’ and ‘poor men’. Each of these had their role to play in Gilead
Women were stripped of all of their rights, from having a bank account to working. From reading and writing to living with their family. They were separated from their families and had their own children ripped from their arms. In Gilead, the women had their own hierarchy, more a ‘class’ system. The wives sat at the top of the tree, married to their commanders and charged with managing their households. The infertile wives were given Handmaids, fertile women who were charged with the role of birthing a child for their commander and his wife. Aunts, Martha’s, Econowives, Jezebels and Unwomen made up the rest of the female class system of Gilead.
Season one shows flashbacks of our protagonist “Offred” and her life prior to her move to Gilead. Before her imprisonment in Gilead she was known as June, but once beholden to a commander, she was given his name, labelled as his property. June is now Offred, of-Fred, her commander being Fred Waterford. We are shown in flashback that she has a daughter called Hannah. Her daughter ripped from her when she was captured. She has a husband called Luke. June believes Luke to be dead and is unaware of her daughters location.
Handmaids, in order to fulfil their obligation of providing a child, are raped by their commander at their most fertile time. June wonders whether it can be defined as rape as she says “I knew what I was signing up for. ” The ‘rape’ is called a ceremony and the handmaid is expected to lay in the wife’s lap, to symbolise that their body is one. Any child conceived belongs to the Commander and his wife.
Commander Waterford and Serena Joy, his wife are major players in Gilead, highly ranked and respected in Gilead command. Their driver Nick, is an eye and reports traitors.
Offreds relationship with her commander, ventures onto a different level as early as season one. Fred Waterford invites Offred into his office. What starts as a late night scrabble game, moves into late night Scrabble and kisses. Seeing that she has an opportunity to play an advantage, June risks her hand and asks Fred to protect her daughter.
Offreds walking partner, Offglen (Emily) is discovered to be a lesbian and having an affair. Her punishment for this is genital mutilation, seeing her partner hanged in front of her, and reassignment. She tries to escape but is captured. Another Handmaid, Offwarren, is brought to be stoned to death. The Handmaids, one by one, refuse to partake in this.Offred is the instigator of the refusal and it is at this point, the Aunts start to see a rebellion forming in June. They realise this needs to be watched.
Offred is taken to the Jezebels by her Commander. It is a secret brothel for high ranking Gilead officials. This is where she finds Moira. Moira manages to escape and meets up with Luke, who is still alive.
When it becomes clear that Offred can’t get pregnant with commander Waterford, Serena arranges for Offred to sleep with Nick. Offred and Nick spend more time together, but without Serenas knowledge. This becomes a regular thing.
Offred learns she is pregnant. A black van comes to take her away for her role in refusing to stone Janine. Nick assures her that it’s OK and to trust him.
By the end of the first series, two things are clearly evident. June will do whatever she has to do, in order to survive, and she will fight for her daughter.
But also by the end of series one, we have seen some of the horrific lengths that Gilead will go to, when people do not follow rules.
Back at the start of this piece, I stated that you should “Hold that thought” after reading Ms Atwood’s quote. We should remember that Ms Atwood stated she would only include things that had been done at some time. When you think of all that is happening in Gilead already, that’s a scary thought.