Author Margaret Atwood spoke before an at-capacity audience on Northwestern University's Evanston campus Oct. 30 to discuss the implications of her classic 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale. The book was chosen as part of the university's "One Book, One Northwestern" book club program.
The popularity of The Handmaid's Tale, which details one woman's tribulations after the United States reconfigures into a fundamentalist theocracy, has enjoyed a resurgence since the book was adapted into a television series by the streaming service Hulu. Furthermore, numerous critics and activists have pointed out that the novel and series are effectively an allegory the nation's embattled political climate and the freedoms that have come been questioned by the right.
Toronto-based Atwood, for her part, said Oct. 30 that the scenarios illustrated in the book were all inspired by "patterns we had seen beforeI didn't include anything that hadn't happened before."
She said that in the '80s she longed to write a dystopian novel, something that up until them had only been the province of male writers, so she was eager to tell the story from a female point of view. Now, numerous other female writers are trying their hand at such stories.
"Why? Because they can," she added.
Atwood explained that a society often acts in effect as a slow-boiling pot, slowly eroding the liberties and freedoms of its members when they do not notice. She was quick to note that that was not out of their willful ignorance either.
"A lot of people are living day-to-day," she said. "They don't have a lot of speculative time. … Unless the hurricane is blowing off the roof of your house, you don't think it's going to happen to you."
Atwood further detailed her very limited involvement with the television series, noting that she only acts as a sort of consultant, especially since the series' story has long advanced past the original novel's narrative.
"I have said a couple of times, 'Don't kill this person, don't kill that person,'" she joked. "So far, they've listened."
Helen Thompson, a professor in Northwestern's Department of English, interviewed Atwood.