Book vs. Show: The Handmaid’s Tale

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Published by Anchor Books in 1985
295 Pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.1
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Man Booker Prize Nominee (1986)
Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1986)
Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (1987)
Audie Award for Fiction (2013)
Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (1986)

Prometheus Award Nominee for Best Novel (1987)
Governor General’s Literary Awards (1985)
Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Nominee for Best Book in Caribbean and Canada (1987)
CBC Canada Reads Nominee (2002)

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Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, though it has been growing in popularity recently. Atwood is 79 years old and currently resides in Toronto—she has also lived in Massachusetts, Alabama, Germany, England, France, and Italy. She has published over forty fiction, poetry, and essay books and is still writing today!Horizontal-Line-Transparent-BackgroundScreen Shot 2019-05-27 at 9.16.28 PM.png

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now… — GOODREADS

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There is a lot of hype about this book right now because of the TV show adaptation—available on Hulu. This series is now on its third season, set for release June 5th, 2019! We often choose books on the basis that they are being adapted into a show or a movie because, if people are spending money to retell the story, it has to be somewhat good. The keyword here is “retell” because the show truly does shift from the book in many ways, while doing it justice by using it as platform to jump off of.

The main premise in the series is the same as the novel—government officials have been killed and replaced by radical Puritans. The United States of America is now referred to as the country of Gilead and runs as a totalitarian society where women are stripped of their rights and used for breeding purposes. Women are responsible for their stereotypical housemaid duties and see “traitors” hung in the streets daily. Each of these details are present in both versions.

In both the book and series Offred (Gilead name), June (birth name), is the main focus. June is a handmaid in Gilead—her sole responsibility is to bear children for her Commander, Fred Waterford, and his wife, Serena Waterford. Every handmaid is assaulted by their Commanders in ritual rape, once per month, on their fertile days. June is one of these many handmaids.

There are many differences between the book and the series. The series includes additional flashbacks that are not present in the book. June has many flashbacks in the book to her life before the revolution. Whereas, the series includes her husband Luke’s flashbacks and present day whereabouts as well. In the series, the viewer is more knowledgable about where Luke is. The book does not include the husband’s perspective whatsoever.

The series does not do a great job of explaining many of the “why” questions that were thoroughly explained in the book:

WHY women were stripped of their rights
WHY families were being uprooted and murdered
WHY women are now used for breeding and household duties 

Many storylines emerge in the series that were not present in the book. One specific storyline that is given more focus in the series is  of June’s best friend Moira. Moria is given more attention and her story line and flashbacks are present as well. This is not necessarily a bad thing, considering it adds more perspective to June’s past and current situation.

A detailed aspect of the book is June’s fear—the TV show does not portray her fear as strongly, but it is still present. June is entirely afraid in the book and rarely does her fear dwindle. Whereas, in the series, June occasionally puts her fear aside to try to escape and protect her daughter. June ultimately comes back to her fear everytime in the series, but uses it more as a catalyst for her efforts to escape. 

June has more freedom in the series than she has in the book. This is very important for the series because it shows readers events and outcomes that could have happened after the ending of the book. In this sense, the book is much more like a prologue to the rest of June’s life—and the future of the United States—than it is a conclusive and definitive ending. This is where the series takes shape and uses the book more as a jumping off point, than a strict script to follow. Horizontal-Line-Transparent-BackgroundScreen Shot 2019-05-27 at 8.59.44 PM.png

Season 1 of the series more closely conforms to the book than season 2, but the chronology of events is loosely used. For example, in the first episode of the first season the final scene of the book is present. Rather than building up to this event the way the book does, the series jumps right into it—presumably in an effort to answer some of the “why” questions listed above. Horizontal-Line-Transparent-BackgroundScreen Shot 2019-05-27 at 9.00.10 PM.png

Season 2 really deviates from what is in the book. This is not a bad thing because season 2 still relies on many of the book’s basic facts and premises. However, by covering the events in the book in season 1, season 2 is able to extend many of the storylines that were not elaborated on in the book, such as Luke and Moira’s..Horizontal-Line-Transparent-BackgroundScreen Shot 2019-05-27 at 9.00.40 PM.png

Although season 3 has not been released yet, the end of season 2 left us confused about June’s future. June was given a solid opportunity to escape, but ultimately chose to stay behind to help her daughter escape.

June’s future is uncertain. Will she return to her commander, Fred Waterford and his wife Serena Waterford? Or, will she try to escape with her daughter and leave her handmaid and guardian allies behind?Horizontal-Line-Transparent-BackgroundOverall, we recommend that you read the book before watching the series. Without having read the book before the series, we would have been a bit lost. Horizontal-Line-Transparent-Background


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One Comment

  1. Nadine - NadsBookNook

    Great analysis. The Handmaid’s Tale is easily one of my favourite books.
    I’m super excited for season three to see what they do with it. I’m also interested to see whether or not Atwood told the writers anything about The Testaments and if it made it into the show.

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