Margaret Atwood Says The Handmaids Tale Season 2 Is a Call to Action


“Some country, somewhere, should make a monument to murdered journalists around the world. Theres been quite a few of them,” Margaret Atwood told Vanity Fair Sunday afternoon. Atwood was in Manhattan to chat with The New York Times for its TimesTalks Festival, which also screened the first episode of the new season of The Handmaid's Tale, the Emmy-winning series based on Atwoods seminal dystopian novel. (Star Elisabeth Moss, originally on the bill to join Atwood, found herself unable to attend the event thanks to Torontos freak spring blizzard.)

“Ive proposed it to a few people,” Atwood continued. “Timothy Snyder has a new book called The Road to Unfreedom, and he begins it with a dedication to journalists, the heroes of our time. So many of them have spoken truth to power, and then got killed.”

Its no surprise this topic is top of mind for Atwood, whos spent much of her prolific career ruminating about the risks and rewards of speaking truth to power. Now, in the shadow of a president who frequently hurls threatening rhetoric toward news outlets like the Times itself, Season 2 of Handmaid—which premieres April 25 on Hulu—is poised to shed further light on characters who refuse to stay silent or submissive in the face of misogyny and oppression, like Mosss June (otherwise known as Offred) and Samira Wileys Moira.

Though the shows first season seemed eerily relevant enough, Atwood agrees that this second season might function as something even more culturally significant: a call to action. “I dont want you all to come to Canada right now, because I want you to stay here and vote,” she told those gathered at the TimesTalk. Atwood also recalled finishing The Handmaids Tale in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of one of the largest and most notorious factions of the Ku Klux Klan—adding that she hoped that the electoral defeat of Roy Moore in December marked a small spark of progress.

Though her novel is the seriess source material, Atwood says that she still finds the show grippingly grotesque. “Its very absorbing and visceral—and its very tense,” she told V.F. “Partly because they do such a good job acting it. And the Aunt Lydia character”—a fearsome taskmistress Atwood based on a former grade-school teacher—“is just terrifying,” said Atwood, even though Aunt Lydia actress Ann Dowd “is the nicest person.” Atwood hasnt yet seen past the first episode of Season 2, which moves beyond the events of her book: Handmaid show-runner Bruce Miller “wont let me see them until he thinks theyre ready,” she explained.

Would the show have been different—no less disturbing, but perhaps less viscerally galvanizing—if Hillary Clinton had been elected president? “It would be a differently viewed show,” Atwood told the Timess Tina Jordan, noting that its scripts were not altered after November 8, 2016: “Nothing about the show changed, but the frame changed.”

The story was always designed to depict forms of injustice that have really happened, and as a form of witness literature—a genre with deep, resonant historical roots. “Its like those people who kept secret journals in W. W. II and camps and occupied countries, hid them . . . There have been a number of people who have done that, at the risk of their own lives,” Atwood explained to V.F. “[Anna] Akhmatova in Russia wrote this poem called Requiem during Stalins purges . . . It survived in the form of fragments, memorized by her friends. And its at the end of Fahrenheit 451; each of the people of the book have memorized a book.”

“There are pluses and minuses to that,” Atwood continued. Kill the person, you kill the memory. But thats what happened to [Akhmatovas] poem. Then, when it was safe, nobody ratted her out. Nobody gave her away. And the fragments were able to be assembled again.”

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