“As they say, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
Rarely in modern literature do I find authors who risk their platforms for the sake of controversial writing. Margaret Atwood is one among the few, a wolf in women’s clothing.
The Testaments, sister to The Handmaid’s Tale and Atwood’s latest work, is evidence of her willingness to incite the masses, specifically ones belonging to western religious communities. The story is set in a religious extremist version of the United States, now named Gilead, the preface to America’s destruction being a deconstruction of “traditional” moral values and a staggeringly low fertility rate.
The totalitarian state is built upon a system where women are intentionally oppressed through positions of servitude: wife, aunt, Martha, and handmaid. Organized rape is condoned and justified through biblical pretext, the story of Rachel presenting her maid Bilhah to Jacob as a childbearing vessel.
The Bible has become an incendiary device, one only accessible to high-ranking men. As a result, Scripture becomes misconstrued and warped to represent the misogynistic values of Gilead – a culture where corrupt men control the biblical narrative, and subsequently, control the women who rank below them. So why endure such a disturbed, seemingly blasphemous work?
I can’t think of a better time than now to remind ourselves that humans will always transcend the limitations put upon them. The protagonists of the story endure horrific hardship because of radicalized Christianity, and yet, they endure.
The stories of these women transverse, three unlikely people woven into a life that is not so much lived as it is spent fearing their own death, a testament to human resilience and the power of love. Many of us can see ourselves through these characters: the blind follower, the morally ambiguous, the prodigal daughter. The Testaments proves it isn’t who you are, but what you allow to be taken from you, that matters. And, as Atwood suggests in her writing, women don’t give anything willingly.