My friend described it as terrifying, and I wouldn't disagree.
Last year, around this time, I read Silence by Shusaku Endo and found it to be one of the most challenging and favorites of the year. I don't think I will say the same for The Handmaid's Tale, but for many reasons, they strike me as fairly similar, but also radically different.
If Silence is a challenging of the nuts and bolts of truth, The Handmaid's Tale questions the structure altogether, painting a pretty intense and disturbing picture in the process.
Specifically, the role and power and abuse of religion.
Like the kind of power Jesus has, in Siberia.
For me, it's almost easy to watch this and point out the weirdos, the brainwashed, and the "holy shit you can't be serious!" individuals. But then I found myself wondering, if Jesus of Nazareth were alive today, or if Vice News were around then, wouldn't the locals and surrounding communities see Him in much the same way?
Because the followers of Jesus of Siberia speak much the same as those who follow Jesus of Nazareth. So what makes them sound so crazy?
(Narrator) Rocco Castoro: "Is there anything, perhaps, you disagree with here, with the teaching?"
(Follower) Tamriko Dgebuadze: "No, no, no, no."
Because, "Disagreeing with Vissarion's teachings is rare." And somewhat terrifying.
The girls at the local school learn from "The Teacher" how to, live in peace with each other, how to behave with a man, and learn that "man is a creator", "master", because man "must build a house and comprehend masculine professions."
And there's no other option. Because a woman taking on "leadership positions" are taking man's responsibilities, which will only lead to disharmony. If she rejects these rules, she puts her health at risk and the "harmony will punish her with a woman'd disease."
This is what makes The Handmaid's Tale so terrifying. Because it isn't that far off, it isn't that impossible. It could be right around the corner.
A few favorite quotes:
But remember that forgiveness too is power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest (pg 133).
When guilt and shame weigh heavy upon the shoulders, we will do most anything to rid ourselves of it, or die trying.
Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn't really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it (pg 133).
Like molesting woman, like speaking the unthinkable towards men and woman of another color and country, like infidelity, dishonesty, and bigotry. Yet, given a muligan and allowed to continue, without ever having to make amends or take responsibility.
Now that's power, The Handmaid's Tale sort of power. A God-like power.
A terrifying sort of power.
Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse, for some (pg 211).
More to come on this later. But for now . . . WoW. I'll be soaking on this for a long while.
People will do anything rather than admit that their lives have no meaning. No use, that is. No plot (pg 215).
Even follow bogus religions, ideas, philosophies, or lies. Because it lets us sleep at night and wake in the morning. Because it gives us hope. Even if it is false, and empty.
The Handmaid's Tale is now a Hulu special. If I can stomach to watch it, it will only be to serve as a reminder and a caution. Because truly, this scares the shit out of me.
Because truly, it could be right around the corner.
TED-Ed also thinks you should read it, with a slightly better, more bells and whistles type of argument.