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Margaret Atwood On Revisiting ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’


by Stephen Becker 24 Sep 2019

With “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood created the dystopian world of Gilead – a place where women are second-class citizens in the extreme.

Interested in listening to the entire episode of Think with Krys Boyd? Download the podcast here.

More than three decades after its release, Atwood is back with a sequel called “The Testaments.” Monday on Think, she talked with host Krys Boyd about her decision to continue the story. Check out some of the highlights from the conversation:

Margaret Atwood Photo: courtesy Associated Press

Margaret Atwood
Photo: courtesy Associated Press

Margaret Atwood on:

Deciding to write a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale” three decades after its release…

… “Instead of going away from Gilead – as we thought we were doing in the ‘90s – we turned around and started to come back towards it as we are doing now. All of the sudden it seemed more pertinent to hear more – particularly more about what may have caused Gilead to fall apart. Why it did not last. I’ve always been interested in why those kinds of regimes don’t last. I also wanted to think about what it would be like for the second generation – because it’s always very different for second generations.”

Revisiting her work decades later …

… “It’s not really, really, really usual. I think it’s going to be usual in the upcoming years, because I want to go back to see what I was doing. But of course any author will tell you that you go back and read it and think, ‘Oh, I should have put a comma there! Oh, I should have cut that sentence!’ So you start editing when it’s way too late.”

Rules for Gilead in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and how they carry over to “The Testaments” …

… “The rules were similar in that nothing was supposed to go into the book for which there wasn’t a precendent in real life sometime, somewhere in history or now. People had to have done or be doing the same kind of thing. So that rule was not difficult, because there’s no shortage of material. The things that are always more difficult are trying to imagine the language of the future, and for “The Testaments,” particularly the teenage language of the future. So would it be the same as the teenage language of today? No, it wouldn’t – because teenage language changes at the speed of light. As soon as you think you’ve found out what the new cool word is, it isn’t.”

On if writers of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” want to do things that she disagrees with …

“We have had a couple of moments like that. So just to put it very clearly, I have influence, but no power. … I think it’s the position of writers and artists in general. People think they have power; they actually don’t. What they have is influence. People who have power are lawmakers. Those people have power.”

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