The Handmaid’s Tale is a tale for our time.
Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopian novel begins when a fundamentalist Christian movement overthrows the American government and creates Gilead, a military dictatorship. Published in 1985, the book deals with autocratic regimes, propaganda, religious extremism and gender discrimination. A recent surge in sales suggests that readers are finding these themes especially pertinent in 2017. In the midst of such events, what can we as Christians do?
In Gilead, one of the regime’s most effective tactics is to isolate its citizens from one another and control their interactions. In rebelling and forming unlikely alliances, some of the characters manage to bring disruptive hope into a dark situation.
We know that love – for our friends and our enemies – is an imperative for Christians. Nothing else we do or say will be effective without it (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). In our own fractured world, we must keep on choosing to extend love to people, however hard it may feel.
The Handmaid’s Tale is testament to the power of words. Whatever else the regime manages to damage and destroy, the brave story of Atwood’s narrator Offred remains.
In a ‘post-truth’ era of ‘fake news’, it is important that Christians seek the truth, speak with integrity, and call out falsehood. We are to proclaim the gospel, to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’ (Proverbs 31:8), and to ‘demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Offred describes the indifference of the population at the rise of Gilead: ‘There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television.’ Atwood’s plea to her readers is ‘don’t get complacent’.
As Christians, we are called to overcome our apathy. We are to recognise that the world is a battlefield, and to fight ‘against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12).
Our society finds itself in a dark place, where people identify with terrifying dystopian narratives like The Handmaid’s Tale. We have a chance to be people who bring hope and healing, taking seriously our call to love, speak and act.
A new television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale will be released on the streaming service Hulu on Wednesday.
Rachel works in marketing at Newcastle University and attends King’s Church Durham. She’s written more about Margaret Atwood here.