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Margaret Atwood offers episode-by-episode insights into The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's Tale (Photo: Hulu)

We’re all still reeling from season one of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which ended, as A.V. Club reviewer Allison Shoemaker put it, with a “thoughtful, thrilling finale.” Those looking for more context on this fascinating season are in luck: Margaret Atwood, author of the dystopian novel the series is based on—where fertile women are forced into surrogate slavery to help populate the barren, male-dominated society of Gilead—has annotated season one for The New York Times. Atwood offers valuable background information on elements like the series’ costuming, as well as on Gilead’s fertility issues, black-market nightclub, and subversive resistance.

Atwood starts with the costumes—red for Handmaids, blue for wives, green for Marthas, brown for aunts. “Organizing people according to what they’re wearing—who should wear what and when, who has to cover up what—is a very, very, very, very old human vocation,” the writer explains. Further, the article says:

The red is also borrowed from Christian iconography of the late-medieval, early Renaissance period, she said, in which “the Virgin Mary would inevitably wear blue or blue-green, and Mary Magdalene would inevitably wear red.”


Atwood also points to the historic precedents of “frenzied murder mobs,” similar to when the Handmaids are instructed en masse to execute someone. Tyrants and dictators like Adolf Hitler and Nicolae Ceausescu also dictated the terms of fertility, and some rulers, like Henry VIII, preferred having their supposedly barren wives executed rather than admitting their own sterility.

Gilead’s black market club was inspired by a similar black market “tolerated by the Allies in Naples, Italy, during World War II” because, according to Atwood, “they were helping to run it!’” And the (hopefully) forthcoming Mayday resistance was influenced by Atwood’s “huge amount of research on the resistance movements in various countries during World War II.” Somehow all of this background detail just adds to the impressiveness of this already impressive series; you can read the rest of it at The New York Times.


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