The Handmaid’s Tale as a study of power
Some critics have called The Handmaid’s Tale a feminist text. ”Novels are not slogans,” Margaret Atwood responds. ”If I wanted to say just one thing I would hire a billboard. If I wanted to say just one thing to one person, I would write a letter. Novels are something else. They aren’t just political messages. I’m sure we all know this, but when it’s a book like this you have to keep on saying it. The book is an examination of character under certain circumstances, among other things. It’s not a matter of men against women. That happens to be in the book because I think if it were going to happen in the United States, that’s the form it would take. But it’s a study of power, and how it operates and how it deforms or shapes the people who are living within that kind of regime.
”You could say it’s a response to ‘it can’t happen here.’ When they say ‘it can’t happen here,’ what they usually mean is Iran can’t happen here, Czechoslovakia can’t happen here. And they’re right, because this isn’t there. But what could happen here? It wouldn’t be some people saying, ‘Hi, folks, we’re Communists and we’re going to be your new Government.’ But if you were going to do it, what would you do? What emotions would you appeal to? What groups would you utilize? How exactly would you go about it? Well, something like the way the religious right is doing things. And the ultimate result of that process would be the union of church and state, which this country since 1776 has striven to keep apart, with great difficulty, because the foundation of this country was not separation of church and state. We’re often taught in schools that the Puritans came to America for religious freedom. Nonsense. They came to establish their own regime, where they could persecute people to their heart’s content just the way they themselves had been persecuted. If you think you have the word and the right way, that’s the only thing you can do.”