What should we learn from dystopian fiction when reality is straining the limits of plausiblity. - From Washington Post
In an introduction to a new paperback edition of the novel, Margaret Atwood herself described “The Handmaid’s Tale” as an “antiprediction,” made in the hope that “If this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen.
But such wishful thinking cannot be depended on either.” That line has stuck with me as the release of Hulu’s magnificent adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” approached — and as the story has been held up as a totem of our political moment by everyone from conservatives who claimed that the 32-year-old story was anti-Trump propaganda to protesters who adopted the novel’s imagery to push back against proposed abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Senate.
If we use “The Handmaid’s Tale,” or any other richly resonant dystopian fiction as a road map for what might happen to us next, are we missing the point?
James Poniewozik wrote in the New York Times that “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in which a theocratic coup transforms America in the wake of a terror attack, is about “the way people will themselves to believe the abnormal is normal, until one day they look around and realize that these are the bad old days.” My friend Megan McArdle argued against this idea in Bloomberg, reminding readers that Trump “hasn’t got control of Congress, or the courts, and has nothing like the mass movements behind him that brought other dystopian governments to power, whether fascist, communist or theocratic.” Beyond that potent concept, there are points of comparison between a completely dystopian world where men make vital decisions about women’s health and reproductive freedom and our own merely-unnerving one.
I honestly don’t know if consuming this sort of dystopian fiction, which very much includes “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is the equivalent of pressing on a bruise, as my colleague Monica Hesse suggested, a way of experiencing our worst fears and steeling ourselves against them.