YMMV / The Handmaid's Tale


For the Book

  • Anvilicious: Religious fundamentalism can be just as oppressive as other forms of tyranny, and women deserve to be treated as equals.
  • Fridge Logic: The majority of the men in this society are a) armed and b) do not expect to have a chance at a woman — read: any legal sexual outlet whatsoever — unless they're really, really lucky because those government-run brothels are only for the high-ranking members of the government and foreign officials. Gilead shouldn't have lasted seven weeks, let alone seven years.
    • It's mentioned that some soldiers are hanged for "gender treachery" (i.e. turning to homosexual sex, probably due to this), but that just means a revolt should have been even likelier.
    • In addition, there's never any hint of action from the rest of the world regarding this-considering that any non-white, non-male, non-... whatever denomination of Christianity Gilead practices individual is either persecuted or executed, there must be some outcry from the rest of the world. At the very least, the UN would be giving the Republic of Gilead major sanctions for human rights violations. In the TV adaptation, Commander Waterford does mention sanctions against Gilead by the European Union.
      • The fourth episode mentions the UN discussing sanctions as well.
      • The pilot explicitly mentions lower status men being assigned wives and more to the point, the show jetissons the white supremacist element of the series, meaning that the supply of women of all races are presumably available to the men of Gilead so there is no real shortage; whereas in the books, where minority women were either killed off or exiled.
    • Fridge Logic is easily explained by having an Unrealiable Narrator and the fact that it's highly implied throughout the book that the Republic is lying about almost everything to maintain some sort of semblance of function.
    • Odds are good that there's a lot of unreported rape and harassment of Marthas going on, that the Marthas don't report because they know they'd be blamed for their own assaults.
      • There's also the Fridge Brilliance that this isn't a functional society but a Nazi-esque reactionary one, that we eventually learn blows up within a generation. It still doesn't mean there's not a massive amount of pain, horror, and anger before it collapses. Fascist, but Inefficient indeed.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The Handmaid's Tale was, of course, written as an incredibly Anvilicious social commentary on Christian fundamentalism. But the horrible thing is that there are real-life political figures of some influence who actually advocate things far too close to Gilead for comfort—As latterly proved by William S. Lind, advisor and speechwriter to presidential candidate Gary Hart, originator of the "Cultural Marxism" meme, and later a major "Alt-Right" figure who has been seen with Donald Trump. In 2014, he published Victoria, a manifesto-cum-survivalist novel which seems almost to be cribbing details of its plot right out of Atwood's story: From the entire US Government killed in a suspicious-looking terrorist attack and far-right militiamen taking over to liberal professors massacred, traditional dress codes enforced, women banned from the public sphere and feminists literally re-educated and enslaved as punishment for their sins. Unlike Atwood, however, Lind considers the resulting society a desirable utopia, and consequently portrays the fundamentalist militiamen as unadulterated heroes, with their victims vile villains who deserve all they get and more. It's even down to really specific details-he, like Gilead, supports death by hanging. On the flipside, women have recently started to cosplay as Handmaids as political protest.
    • Not to mention that, though Atwood focuses on Christian fundamentalism, the themes have already happened for women in some countries such as Iran, which regressed from its more liberal ideas decades ago when taken over by religious (Muslim) fundamentalists. See Nightmare Fuel.
  • Sci-Fi Ghetto: Margaret Atwood insists the book is Speculative Fiction, but not Science Fiction. "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen." The book won the first Arthur C. Clarke award in 1987.
    • There are signs that Atwood's mellowed since then and the book is taught in University literature courses at least in Canada, France and the Netherlands.
  • Values Dissonance: If Luke cheated on his wife when he met June (as opposed to the two having separated and decided to divorce and him already moving on) while there's nothing odd in the 20th and 21st centuries about portraying a woman pursuing her own desires by sleeping with a married man as positive (though it is not without its own negative implications), it's not common for feminist works not to condemn a man who cheats on his wife or partner; as June is the narrator of the story, the text naturally has nothing negative to say about Luke's treatment of his first wife, thus portraying cheating on a woman as perfectly acceptable.

For the Series

  • Ensemble Darkhorse: Moira, Emily, and Janine are all very well-loved by the fandom. Especially impressive in Janine's case, since her original book incarnation wasn't very popular at all.
  • Fetish Fuel: The Handmaids are this In-Universe to some of the Commanders such as Fred and also customers at the brothel (they have prostitutes dressed as them there). Plus woman kissing each other, and many forms of dress from the old days which we see them wear too.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • A more meta example while watching the series. The ads for women's clothing and alcohol are a real whiplash after watching the show.
    • The pattern of episodes ending with upbeat music, that's usually chosen to be ironic in a very on-the-nose way, has had mixed reception from critics due to inducing this.
  • She Really Can Act: Even die hard Gilmore Girls fans have been critical of Alexis Bledel's portrayal of Rory Gilmore and her acting in general. Her performance as Ofglen in The Handmaid's Tale however has been universally praised.
  • Narm Charm: The slow-motion walk of Offred and the other Handmaid's at the end of "Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum" as Offred internally declares, "We are handmaids". Self-affirming while also cheesy.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped:
    • When oppressors like Aunt Lydia, Serena Joy, and even Commander Waterford show semblance of empathy or kindness, it's hollow in the long-run.
    • The consequences of misogyny owes a lot to men and the Female Misogynist that perpetuate it. Women who participate in the men's world of oppression, like Aunt Lydia and Serena Joy, end up hurting themselves, but worse, they end up hurting the women who didn't participate in the oppression in the first place.
    • Patriarchy and fundamentalist extremism hurt men - not just women. In addition to this, they create throny power imbalances. Even if Fred Waterford is unhappy, he still has the power to exploit Offred and has less repercussion for his actions. Also, no matter how much Nick is hurt by Gilead and might be a good guy, Offred calls out on his obliviousness of his power as an Eye., thus why it's depicted as hollow when he reveals his full name to Offred because at least he's allowed to keep a significant part of his identity, unlike a handmaid.
    • Tyranny doesn't happen all at once. It happens by those in power introducing small changes that people accept as normal until it's too late, or slowly boiling the proverbial frog.

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