The Testaments is the latest novel of the award-winning, best-selling author Margaret Atwood who rose to fame after the publishing of such classics as Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale. It follows three different narrators (Aunt Lydia, Agnes and Daisy) instead of the rebellious handmaid, Offred and was published just a few years prior to the Emmy-winning TV adaptation of its predecessor on Hulu.

 

Throughout the Handmaid’s Tale, themes of manipulation, corrupted politics, sexuality, moral relativism and the individual versus society are developed in a way that shapes the meaning and legacy of this dystopian classic, but none more than its use of feminism and gender stereotyping within the New England totalitarian state of Gilead. Although the original was published in 1985, its sequel novel, The Testaments, published in 2019 continues to expand these themes whilst building on the religious totalitarian world Atwood had created 34 years prior. 

 

The Handmaid’s Tale is impossible to read without the significant amplification of gender issues and feminist features that power the novel. Not only are the handmaids subdued unfairly by the Republic of Gilead, but their identities and individuality are stolen from them as they must use names derivative to the men they serve to please such as “of Fred” and “of Glen.” Atwood’s decision to remove the handmaids’ rights to their own names augments Gilead’s misogyny and lack of respect for women’s liberation. One of the main contrasts to the misogynistic Gilead is displayed through Moira’s taboo language and stereotypically masculine attire which goes against Gilead’s fixed image of a women or how a woman should act. Feminism is further expressed through Atwood’s writing when Offred reminisces of her mother, an avid feminist that had marched during the feminist movement for abortion and against pornography. Offred’s mother’s more physical and visible approach to feminism could be seen as Atwood trying to explain how women’s rights at the time needed a bigger push or a ‘feminist revolution’ of sorts wouldn’t be able to take place.

 

In The Testaments, which takes place 15 years after the events of the first book continues to portray the inequality between men and women in the Republic of Gilead through impractical belief that men are sophisticated, well-educated and natural born leaders whereas women are childish and feeble, so are unable to be held at the same level as men. Gender stereotypes are enforced in Gilead due to these delusional beliefs as the totalitarian state has decided that women are only fit for cleaning and becoming pregnant if fertile. The novel is split into three narrators, the first being that of Aunt Lydia – a character from the original novel – whose illegal journal entries depict that her belief in an improved Christian civilisation is no more. The narration being taken from her illegal journal entries is significant because it intensifies further how men are seen as higher in society then women as they aren’t allowed to read or write in Gilead.