The Handmaid’s Tale is a talking point; this book by Margaret Atwood seems eerie now in the light of how lightly women’s rights are being taken world over. The story that is now a TV series had its roots in a tale that Atwood heard from her aunt about a seventeenth century ancestor, Mary Webster, who was hung on witchcraft charges but didn’t die. Atwood, a famous writer in Canada, is well-known for her predictions that are painfully accurate. She even did a little palm reading of the narrator of the essay and didn’t seem too off the mark. She isn’t too surprised by the way politics is playing out.
She attended the Toronto iteration of the Women’s March, wearing a wide-brimmed floppy hat the color of Pepto-Bismol: not so much a pussy hat as the chapeau of a lioness. Among the signs she saw that day, her favorite was one held by a woman close to her own age; it said, “i can’t believe i’m still holding this fucking sign.” Atwood remarked, “After sixty years, why are we doing this again? But, as you know, in any area of life, it’s push and pushback. We have had the pushback, and now we are going to have the push again.”
Atwood is the rare kind of writer who can write anywhere. The Handmaid’s Tale was written in 1984; she was influenced by Orwell, and the idea of the book frightened her.
What does feel familiar in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the blunt misogyny of the society that Atwood portrays, and which Trump’s vocal repudiation of “political correctness” has loosed into common parlance today. Trump’s vilification of Hillary Clinton, Atwood believes, is more explicable when seen through the lens of the Puritan witch-hunts. “You can find Web sites that say Hillary was actually a Satanist with demonic powers,” she said. “It is so seventeenth-century that you can hardly believe it. It’s right out of the subconscious—just lying there, waiting to be applied to people.” The legacy of witch-hunting, and the sense of shame that it engendered, Atwood suggests, is an enduring American blight. “Only one of the judges ever apologized for the witch trials, and only one of the accusers ever apologized,” she said. Whenever tyranny is exercised, Atwood warns, it is wise to ask, “Cui bono?” Who profits by it? Even when those who survived the accusations levelled against them were later exonerated, only meagre reparations were made. “One of the keys to America is that your neighbor may be a Communist, a serial killer, or in league with satanic forces,” Atwood said. “You really don’t trust your fellow-citizens very much.”
Read more of this story to get a better understanding of Atwood, her life and writing: Margaret Atwood, the Prophet of Dystopia by Rebecca Mead.