My newest obsession is Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. It is a strange dystopian future which is marred and peppered with so many things from the past. To me it reads like The Scarlet Letter and Jane Eyre, a female perspective of a world gone mad. I’ve always connected it with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, though they are nothing alike. Chaucer’s stories have a comical air one will not find in The Handmaid’s Tale.
It all started when my co-teacher gave me Testament, which is the much awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, so to get ready to read the second book, I reread the first.
If you have never reread a book at two different points in your life, I highly recommend. It is eye-opening, but it does lead me to today’s question: “How did I fall down this rabbit hole?”
I am starting to feel a bit like Alice. I have followed a rabbit through a knothole in a tree and awoke to the world with a different set of eyes. I feel like I see the world in ways I have never imagined before. Yes, it is a bit of a rebirth, but it is not all rainbows and butterflies. I feel as if the view is dark and gritty in ways I could not previously imagine. Something has been lifted from my eyes and I see clearer than before.
“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is told through the protagonist who is being held against her will. She is forced to be the third wheel for a powerful couple who are unable to have a child. The world has turned upside down and the religious right has taken over. Everything is for the will of God. Some are exalted but most are submerged in a nightmare of subservience and pain. When I read this book at the tender age of sixteen, I wrongly believed this type of world could never truly be, but it was interesting to read about.
Now as an adult woman with two children of her own, I see with despair how possible this make-believe world is. I see how fragilely we hold “these truths to be self-evident” and how slippery the strings of freedom truly are.
I was so naïve to believe that others around me held the same ideals as I do. The belief that the religious right were zealots with limited means and limited power. The narrow view that hatred, though real, could never wield any power in a country dedicated to freedom of religion and equality for all.
I believed that being an educator meant I was in the perfect position to help enact real social change.
“The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you’ve been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil”― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
So now I am here. I am in the darkness, which is not a truly terrible place. There is very little light here. Probably for the best. Too much light would hurt my new eyes.