wander the sea

A reading of The Handmaid’s Tale

 

The show has a way of absorbing you with its bareness and minimalism, becoming almost too austere and icy.


This show couldn’t have arrived at a more appropriate time, seeing as how women have much to lose from the extreme, right-wing policies of the current republicans in control of the senate, house and the fake white house. The patriarchy wants to reverse the progress on women’s health care and family planning. Not a single women was part of the republican senate group meant to write the new health care bill. Once it was out in the open, we saw why they kept it hidden for so long. There were severe cuts to programs vital to women and families, for example Medicaid and planned parenthood. I guess conservatives are pro-life, but not when its comes to women and their children.

People want to lie to themselves, and say “that couldn’t happen to us.” Often we dismiss older societies as being naive. We saw this at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale (book) when the historian discussed the tape recordings, which revealed June’s story. He laughed it off, saying Gilead was antiquated and their ideas were primitive and impossible now. That is until someone asked, “What sort political climate do you think could potentially break apart our current status and take us back in time?” The past repeats itself only with minor differences, so it’s safe to say, we should not make light of our current political state. The historian in The handmaid’s Tale goes on to respond:

In times of peace and plenty it is hard to remember the conditions that have led to authoritative regime changes in the past, and it is even harder to suppose that we ourselves would ever make such choices or allow them to be made, but when there’s a perfect storm and collapse of the established order is in the works, precipitated by environmental stresses that lead to food shortage, economic factors, such as unrest due to unemployment, a social structure that is, top-heavy with too much wealth being concentrated among too few, then scapegoats are sought and blamed, fear is rampant, and there is pressure to trade what we think of liberty, for what we think of as safety.

 

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I’m a little mad that no one told me about this book growing up, nor was it a required reading in high school or junior high. I wonder how I would have perceived the harsh dystopian setting, the stony characters and the cruelness of how women were treated. It may have been the case that my teachers were either offended by the nature of the book, or were not allowed to teach it since the faculty might have deemed it inappropriate for teenage girls. It would have no doubt made me hate men, at least initially. There are some redemptive male characters who are not as deplorable as the males figures in power.

I began watching The Handmaid’s Tale series, blindly without having any background on the story. This caused a shock in so much as I did not want to watch another episode, even with another human present. I could only stomach one episode at a time, because by the end of episode I had shrunk and felt depressed. This was not a lighthearted show you binge watch for 3 or 4 episodes that include moments of comic relief of the likeness of OITNB.

The scenes in the show have a way of absorbing you with its bare and minimal quality. It takes place in Cambridge, Massachusetts (though it was actually filmed in Canada) where a new society called Gilead has overthrown the U.S. democratic government of the modern era and instituted a version of Christian fundamentalism or a theocracy. This could have taken place in our decade, but it’s meant to resemble 2005—a not so distant past.

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Fall in New York.

“They have instituted a caste system paired with a rigid wardrobe meant to subjugate women.”

The Gilead society is structured in such a way where everyone has a designated function, which determines their social ranking, and what they wear. They have instituted a caste system paired with a rigid wardrobe meant to subjugate women. In every town a group of handmaids are in charge of breeding children that will be raised by the wives and fathered by the commander within the assigned household. The names they once had have been discarded and in its place are the chosen family names, so they are Offred or Ofwarren. In this society love doesn’t exist, so no one dates or marries a person of their choice. Most of the men have been turned into guards or angels, meant to protect the women, but in reality they are there to make sure they don’t escape.

There is no a sight of imperfection with the neighborhood’s pristine streets, homes and gardens. Everything is meant to appear clean and pure including the women. The only colors that resonate are the handmaid’s crimson dresses and cloaks, their white hats and the wives’ blue dresses, which symbolize purity. The Marthas are the cooks and they wear drab gray uniforms; they mostly keep to themselves, since they are hidden away like discarded towels in the kitchen. The men mostly wear black and the nuns wear dark green outfits, which appear heavy.

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Three dolls found in a nyc thrift store.

The handmaids cannot wear makeup. Their faces hide underneath the white hat that doesn’t let them see on the sides or above, only straight as if they were in a tunnel. The handmaids walk in pairs at the same rhythm. “She is my spy and I am her spy,” Offred (June) thinks  while walking with Ofglen.

Every word is carefully studied, as is every gesture, since the characters must be careful not to let their true feelings come out. An illegal action can mean punishment, or worse the women could be sent to the colonies where people go to die. It’s pertinent to know everyone’s motive, and to make sure they will not tell on you if you dissent.

“The series is an alternative reading of the book and works as a complement or another  layer.”

We often find closeup shots of June’s face as we hear her interior monologue. There’s a natural quality to the way the show was filmed, especially when June or other handmaids are in the shot, which is not to be compared with the harshness of the wives or nuns.

Let us be who we want to be and wear what we want.

The show is a version, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s book by the same name. As is the case when books are turned into shows or movies, many scenes are left out, dialogues or the similitude of relationships. The series is an alternative reading of the book and works as a complement or another layer.

The interior monologue of June is much more fluid and spontaneous in the book, where she takes certain freedoms  describing scenes and giving us suggestive anecdotes, often tricking into believing that she is still in her old life. There are poignant moments of irony and sarcasm that are not strongly felt in the show.

The book version also has a longer scene between Moira and June when they meet again after the red center days. Nick and June’s relationship is lackluster in the book and I’m glad I had the show’s version to illustrate their affection, since in the book it seems oddly cold. The wife also does not represent much of threat in the book version, but in the series she is much younger and has an alarmingly sadistic quality.

From the book, I remember Margaret Antwood’s words on how cool the scrabble pieces felt in June’s hand as she paired the letters. From the show, I remember, “They didn’t get everything, there was something left in her. She looked invincible,” June said after seeing another handmaid commit an act of bravery.

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Blurry memory.

 

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