The Handmaid's Tale

From Fairy Tales to Perry Miller, and Beyond: How The Handmaid's Tale Has Borrowed from Other Texts 12th Grade

The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwood in 1985, is a complex novel, where it is clear that countless other texts have influenced its writing, creating a rich multi-layered narrative. Atwood borrows from or alludes to a wide range of texts, ranging from contemporary novelists to the Bible. The Handmaid’s Tale was written in 1984 as part of a long literary heritage of dystopian novels dating back to George Orwell’s 1984. It was published at a time when the elections of Reagan and Thatcher in the West signified conservative political and religious revival, which some felt could have threatened the progress made by feminists towards equal gender rights in the previous few decades.

The Bible is a key text to explore when examining Atwood’s intertextuality, and it has a strong bearing on how her dystopian world functions. Gilead (mentioned in several different contexts in the Bible, most famously in the ‘Balm of Gilead’, which was ironically said to be able to heal entire nations) is modelled on carefully selected parts of the ancient texts, mainly those which promote patriarchy, allowing men to govern and women to function only to provide children. This is seen when the Commander reads from Genesis 30:1-3 at the Ceremony, “...

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