The start of the school year means I have to get the summer reading I assigned to my Advanced Placement students finished. Don’t misunderstand, I never assign them a novel I have not read before, but before teaching any novel I re-read and annotate it.
I can’t even count the number of times I have read The Great Gatsby.
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in my early 20’s. As much as it disturbed me then, I never really thought of it as a reflection of society or any sort of actuality…at least not in the US where it is set. I saw it more as a statement against conservative politics and the danger of letting religion take too strong of a hold on society. I thought of it as a warning to women not to forget some very, very dark times of old.
And while the book is still all of these things, reading it again today, considering the current state of our government, it no longer seems a reflection of things past, but frighteningly of those that may come.
Now, I still don’t believe it could ever get to the disturbing, disgusting levels Offred describes, one message keeps jumping out to me: people can get used to anything if given no real choice and no real voice. Even as Americans, we are willing to sacrifice a disturbing amount of our freedom for “safety.” The Patriot Act is living proof.
We are also seeing scary cuts and changes to reproductive care in this country. Health committees, made up of entirely men, are making decisions about what health services women can receive. State governments are making laws requiring women to get their rapist’s permission in order to get abortions. Planned Parenthhod, the largest single provider of women’s health care, may be defended.
We are seeing news called “fake” and access to our government, one that is supposed to be “for the people, by the people,” restricted from reporters. We are demonizing single mothers and trying to restrict governmental benefits for them. We are also seeing a rise in people demanding we, as a nation, return to “Christian values,” and trying to mirror local, state and national laws on the Bible.
Our country and Gilead are merging in very upsetting ways. Now, more than ever, this is an important book for people to read. It is why Hulu decided, 30 years after its first publication to turn the novel into a modern series.
I’m very interested to see what my students think of its relevance to today’s world.