How to Read The Handmaid’s Tale, Step One: Don’t Panic

Don’t panic when you read the details. Don’t panic if it sounds familiar. We are not in Gilead. We are not Offred.

Not yet.

So don’t panic.

We comfort ourselves as we read. We tell ourselves, it could never be that bad. Not here. Not now.

But then we remember, everything Margaret Atwood describes in this novel has happened… is happening… to women. Somewhere.

Subjugation. False imprisonment. Purged liberties. Protecting us from ourselves.

Women who didn’t think it could ever happen to them. Or maybe their mothers didn’t. Maybe their grandmothers. Maybe they’ve never known anything different.

And that’s the point of the book, isn’t it? How we normalize. How we compromise. How we make do, until making do is all that’s left.

But don’t panic. This isn’t Gilead.

Don’t panic when the ban is announced, when the checkpoints begin.

Don’t panic when they say they’ll “punish” the abortionists, the abortion-getters, the abortion-needers. Us. Our friends. Our sisters and our mothers.

Why should I pay for your birth control? Just stop being a whore.

Don’t panic when they tell you the wall is for your own good.

It’s temporary, we tell ourselves. This is a democracy. Another election, another chance. But elections are held by people, leaders are voted on by the same people who chose this for us. They’ll vote again. And again. And again.

What will change? Can we change? Can we fix it? Should we leave?

I hear Canada is nice.

Should we go before they close the borders?

This just in: Canada Declared Enemy, unfair to border states. Like Wisconsin.

No. Don’t panic.

“I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.” She wrote that in 1985. She was sending us a warning, a note in a bottle.

“We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance. You have to work at it.”

She wrote that too.

But we don’t hang bodies from our wall, for all to see. Not yet. Not anymore. We fried two guys in Arkansas today, but don’t panic. They had it coming.

Don’t panic when other women turn on us, white women on our televisions, hair dyed blonde, telling us we’ve forgotten our rightful place. That we shouldn’t have been working in the first place.

Think of the children.

The Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming.

So close the doors, lock them tight.

Don’t panic.

But keep your passport close.

Are there any questions?


The Handmaid’s Tale is now airing on Hulu. Chris and I will be reviewing the series beginning this weekend.

Follow Rebecca Phelps on Twitter @DownWorldNovel, “like” us on Facebook at Novel2Screen, or just follow this blog to read more.




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