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Literature / The Testaments

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Following in the footsteps of The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments is a 2019 follow up, written by Margaret Atwood.

The novel, set 15 years after the Ending of The Handmaid's Tale, follows three narrators, an adopted daughter of a commander, a young woman in Canada watching Gilead from afar, and a older woman, a founder and respected leader within the nation, Aunt Lydia.

Unmarked Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale ahead!


Tropes for The Testaments include:

  • Alternate Continuity: Despite Hulu quickly picking up the rights to the novel to make a direct sequel to their series based on the first book, its portrayal of Aunt Lydia is completely irreconcilable with the one in the show, making some major changes necessary.
  • Aerith and Bob: The Daughter of Gilead in Agnes' School. Among her classmates, there are Becka and Shunammite. While the Aunts pick their own names based off of products, their names can be as common as Elizabeth, Helena, and Victoria, to more uncommon, like Immortelle, Vidala, and Estèe.
  • Arranged Marriage: The Daughters of Gilead can expect this. Marriages are arranged by parents and Aunts, with some "say" from the girls. Averted by both Becka and Agnes as they becomes Supplicants, an Aunts-in-Training, to escape marriage.
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  • As the Good Book Says...: The Bible is used to justify the treatment of the women in society. One story in particular in Judges, the Levite and his Concubine, is used in Agnes' school to teach women to be obedient. Agnes (a.k.a. Aunt Victoria) eventually discovers that the Bible doesn't say what those in power claim it says.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Aunt Lydia finishes her manuscript with a vial of morphine at the ready, intending to give herself a lethal overdose before she can be arrested and executed.
  • The Bluebeard: Commander Judd constantly kills off his child-wives after he grows bored with them in order to find a new child-bride.
  • Break the Haughty: Shunammite is not the nicest girl, but a husband who is poisoning her and an Unbaby later, she is a shadow of her former vivacious self.
  • Canon Welding: The plotline of Baby Nichole being taken to Canada originated in the series. The name is spelled "Nicole" in the novel.
    • While Aunt Lydia is shown to be a judge in the book, Commander Judd mentions that she used to teach, which is a nod at the Hulu series, where Lydia was a teacher.
  • The Chessmaster: Aunt Lydia, at least three times over. One, she works Agnes and Nicole around to a position of being ready to help her bring down the government of Gilead. Two, she manipulates one potential rival into committing perjury, then gets her packed off to a sanitarium and out of the picture. Three, she sets up a second rival to be attacked by Agnes and Nicole and then killed by a third rival.
  • Color-Coded Characters: Continuing from The Handmaid's Tale, Daughters wear Pink/Plum, Marriage Ready Girls wear Spring Green, and Pearl Girls wear silver.
  • Death by Childbirth: One of Commander Judd's young wives had an Unbaby with two heads lodged in her birth canal. Her husband refused to allow the doctors to save her, using the fetal heartbeat as an excuse. As we later find out, he did it on purpose so he could get another child bride.
    • The Handmaid assigned to Commander Kyle and his wife is essentially sacrificed so that her son could be saved.
  • Depraved Dentist: Becka's father, who molests not only his own daughter but also his young patients, with Agnes among them.
  • Double Agent: Aunt Lydia has been collaborating with Mayday for a long time, sending intel to aid the Underground Femaleroad smuggle refugees to Canada.
  • Driven to Suicide: Becka, as well as many other girls and women living in Gilead.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: Gilead continues to struggle with discontented citizens. Mayday is very active within Canada and Gilead.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After a gruelling escape effort, Agnes and Nicole manage to escape to Canada where they are suggested to have reunited with their mother and started families of their own. The intel they smuggle out eventually leads to the collapse of Gilead and allows for the re-establishment of the USA.
  • Fish out of Water: Daisy/Jade/Nicole when she infiltrates the Pearl Girls after pretending to convert. And Agnes after she and Nicole escape to Canada
  • Gossipy Hens: The Marthas spread a lot of gossip about which children are whose and what really went on in some of the Commanders' marriages.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Agnes' widowed father marries a terrible woman who quietly eliminates all traces of her predecessor and wants a baby of her own. It turns out that not only did Paula have an affair with Commander Kyle even before Tabitha's death, but she murdered her first husband and framed her poor Handmaid.
  • Hypocrite: An infuriating example in the Gilead elites; in spite of their pious and proper facade, they are guilty of continuously committing every single sin which their precious Bible condemns. Additionally, in spite of wailing that the birth rates have plummeted to dangerous lows, they execute thousands and thousands of people (not counting the underhanded murders that the Commanders and Wives plan against their competition and spouses). Regardless of who you are in this regime, your life is cheap.
    • Hypocritical Humor: A notable example is when Aunt Lydia tells Commander Judd that she framed Becka's father because he was a pedophile, and such sins can't be allowed in Gilead. Judd, himself a pedophile who disposes of his Wives once they're out of their teens, enthusiastically agrees.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Aunt Lydia finds out that Becka's father, a popular dentist, is a pedophile who is molesting his young patients and his own daughter. She decides to get rid of him so she enlists the help of Aunt Elizabeth and his own assistant to frame him for attempted rape. It works, and he is gruesomely killed by a mob of shrieking Handmaids, to the regret of absolutely nobody.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Aunt Lydia convinces Aunt Elizabeth that Aunt Vidala is scheming against her; initially to get Aunt Elizabeth to frame Becka's father, and later to kill Aunt Vidala when she regains her memories after a coma and threatens to expose Aunt Lydia as a double agent.
  • Living Legend: Aunt Lydia holds a lot of power in Gilead. Her picture is hanging everywhere and a statue of her stands outside the the Ardua Hall building. Her name is both revered and feared. Baby Nicole holds this title as well. It's been over a decade since her disappearance and many still pray for her return.
  • Marital Rape License: What terrifies the Daughters of Gilead and motivates them to become Aunts or outright drives them to suicide.
  • Meaningful Rename: Subverted. Initially Agnes becomes Aunt Victoria, Becka becomes Aunt Immortelle and Nicole (who'd previously also been known as Daisy) becomes Jade. These are supposed to be this trope, but all the girls continue to use their birth names among each other, and Agnes and Nicole revert to their birth names permanently when they escape to Canada.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Aunt Lydia never forgave the injustices she suffered at the hands of the Gilead regime. Add to that the disgust she feels at the festering corruption and immorality hiding underneath the pious and proper facade and you have more than enough reasons for her covert anti-Gilead campaign.
  • Never Learned to Read: Agnes and Becka were not taught to read until they became Supplicants, as per Gilead's policy forbidding girls and women from reading or writing.
  • No Woman's Land: Gilead is a horrible place to live in if you are a woman. Even the Wives and Daughters of the Commanders, arguably the most privileged women in the country, are subjected to rape, infidelity, humiliation and are sometimes murdered by their husbands to make room for younger Wives.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: Commander Judd prefers younger wives, and Agnes and later Shunammite are forced to marry him when they are young teenagers, as they are both mentioned to have just started their periods.
  • Parental Incest: Becka's disgust towards sex and marriage is fueled mainly by her father's sexual abuse.
  • Parental Neglect: The book delves deeper into what happens when the babies stolen by Gilead's elites grow up. While the children lack for nothing material while growing up, in many cases both the Commanders and the Wives tend to be emotionally neglectful and distant from their stolen children, because the reason they wanted them was status, and not a real desire for parenthood. Commander Kyle agreed to adopt Agnes to please his wife, and never got attached to the child, while Paula uses baby Mark as a way to obtain praise and validation from the other Wives, but otherwise doesn't seem to be very interested in the baby. It's also implied that Wives see children born out of Handmaids to be inferior to children born from a "proper" union, and this trickles down to the girls themselves.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Infidelity is rampant in hypocritical Gilead, especially among the Commanders. Both Commander Kyle and Paula cheated on their spouses, and many Commanders have turned their Handmaids into sex slaves outside the Ceremony.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Paula is this for Agnes, whom she sees as an unpleasant remnant of Tabitha, the previous Wife.
  • With Friends Like These...: Shunammite claims to be Agnes' "best friend" but only really uses her for status / convenience, and ditches her whenever Agnes falls out of favour with others.

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