Margaret Atwood is speaking out about the political relevance of her book The Handmaid’s Tale in the era of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Her 1985 novel, which has been adapted into a series that will debut April 26 on Hulu, is set in the near-future and tells the story of Offred (played in the series by Elisabeth Moss), a woman pressed into service as a “handmaid” to a member of the ruling elite in a world where fertility is rare, making it her sole job to reproduce.
In an essay for The New York Times, Atwood addresses whether she considers it anti-religious or feminist.
“If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies, and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure and plot of the book, then yes. In that sense, many books are ‘feminist,'” she writes.
Atwood also says the book, which was her first sci-fi work, is not anti-religious. “It is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny; which is a different thing altogether,” she writes, explaining that she drew a lot of direct influence from Puritans of 17th-century America and other authoritarians throughout history who have used religion as a cover.
Atwood’s book has surged in popularity in recent months, climbing back to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list, currently still in the top 20 of 2017. Other post-apocalyptic novels have done the same, including George Orwell’s 1984. That book shot to the top of bestseller lists earlier this year thanks in part to Trump aide Kellyanne Conway’s use of the phrase “alternative facts” in January on NBC’s Meet the Press — a phrase compared by many to Orwell’s concept of “Newspeak,” a language used by people in his 1949 novel in order to limit the freedom of thought.
“In the wake of the recent American election, fears and anxieties proliferate,” Atwood writes in her essay. “In this divisive climate, in which hate for many groups seems on the rise and scorn for democratic institutions is being expressed by extremists of all stripes, it is a certainty that someone, somewhere — many, I would guess — are writing down what is happening as they themselves are experiencing it. Or they will remember, and record later, if they can. Will their messages be suppressed and hidden? Will they be found, centuries later, in an old house, behind a wall? Let us hope it doesn’t come to that. I trust it will not.”
Read Atwood’s full New York Times essay here.