By Lucy Osborne
Astonishingly it appears as if Margaret Atwood single-handedly predicted the catastrophic events of 2020 in her world-renowned novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. I’m sure, like me, 2020 is a year you are desperate to forget; from the pandemic to bushfires and presidential elections, it was like a rollercoaster gone berserk. If someone had told me this time last year that we would be living a life comparable to that of the Republic of Gilead in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ I would’ve laughed in their face.
Perhaps the most obvious prediction Atwood made was the implications of social restrictions. The infamous image of the two handmaids in their startlingly red uniform on their daily sanctioned walk to the shop is a stark reminder of our incessant lockdown walks with one other household. I truly never thought we’d end up living in a world as dystopian as Gilead; the thought of doing another Zoom quiz genuinely makes me want to cry. Another startling comparison between Gilead and the turmoil of 2020 is the exclusion and lack of respect for the arts. In Gilead, freedom of speech and television shows are severely restricted and live theatre is also banned. Our government's lack of respect for the arts throughout the pandemic emulates the same climate of Gilead. I have found it truly shocking watching the government’s blatant disregard when asked about reopening theatres and funding the arts; it appears they have forgotten the lifesaving effects of the arts during lockdown.
If we cast our minds back to the first months of 2020 and the horrors of the incessant bush fires, it appeared to dictate what a heinous year it would set out to be. These terrifying fires reflect the radioactive wasteland of the colonies in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Here, “unwomen” are sent to their deaths to clear the radioactive debris if they break the stringent rules of Gilead. This fear of environment we live in and the danger this incites is comparable to 2020, from the danger of the bush fires to the dangers of catching Coronavirus whenever you leave the house. Having a fear of the natural world we live in has made me aware of some of the naivety I didn't realise I had. To put a humorous spin on such a dire situation, I thought it was comical to see how the Japanese tourists in the book are both astounded and shocked at the lives of the handmaids. To me this was an all too familiar feeling, with countries such as New Zealand returning to life as normal looking at us with pity as we are stuck in the same position as we were in this time last year.
We can note Atwood’s semantic obsession with her careful deliberateness of every word in comparison with the bumbling speeches of our (unfortunately) world leaders. This meticulous narrative helps create such a believable landscape of Gilead it makes the comparison to 2020 even more staggering. The incompetence of the political speeches delivered over the past year are truly astonishing. Perhaps they should take a note from Atwood’s writing.
I fear I have painted ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ to be one of the most pessimistic books of all time. When I studied it at A level, I distinctly remember my sweet English teacher disclosing that nothing in the book had happened that hadn’t occurred at some point in history. Quite frankly this terrified me. There was however, a comfort in her use of the word history - it was in the past… or so I thought. And so here we are two years later, Atwood having predicted the whole thing one way or another; we can’t say she didn’t warn us. My favourite quote from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ would have to be, “I sit in my room, at the window, waiting. In my lap is a handful of crumpled stars”. The detailing of the “crumpled stars” is an emblematic symbol of hope for the handmaids as they sit and wait for life to change.
And that is what we must do. Sit and wait and hope. This will pass.