In the last two weeks, it was announced that Atwood is writing a direct sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, titled The Testaments, due to be published next year. Little has been revealed about the follow-up’s story or characters, besides it taking place 15 years after the end of the previous novel, and that it will be narrated by three female characters.
The success of the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale at present seems almost obvious. In the first few episodes, the soon-to-be handmaids’ indoctrination takes the form of a total condemnation of one-night stands, dating sites, abortion, promiscuity, women daring to have interests outside of mothering and caring for children.
It rings eerily familiar, as even now pro-life organisations and even politicians heckle and harass women who seek abortion, as well as the institutions that provide them. Women are ridiculed and undermined for dressing in ‘revealing’ or ‘suggestive’ clothing, to the point where a 17-year-old rape victim in Ireland was recently forced to see her attacker walk free, before taking her own life, due to the type of underwear she was wearing at the time.
Sexual abuse and harassment of women, whether it be groping, rape, or sex trafficking, are worryingly regular occurrences and women are often seen as little more than objects, to be used for sexual gratification and reproduction. The 2016 election of Donald Trump provoked similar concerns in women and girls today, and perhaps even in Atwood herself, too.
It’s been more than 30 years since Atwood’s own anxieties about women’s rights motivated her to write The Handmaid’s Tale, and while we might have come a long way in that time, in some regards at least, there is undoubtedly still much more progress to be made. Perhaps The Testaments will serve as another warning to the women of today, or maybe it will instead be an optimistic story of hope, detailing the fall of Gilead and the reestablishment of women’s rights. At the very least, it will certainly be interesting to hear Atwood’s thoughts and ideas again, 34 years on.