The Handmaid's Tale: Differences Between the Book and the Show

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After the emergence of the Republic of Gilead, the real names of the handmaids, like all their past life, were banned. When a handmaid moves to a new house, she takes on the name of a commander. Fred’s handmaid becomes Offred, Glen’s is Ofglen, etc. Nevertheless, Margaret Atwood never revealed Offred real name in the book. It was assumed by some attentive readers that when Offred arrived at the Red Center for the first time, she and the other women “exchanged names from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.” June is the only name in the book that never appears again. Atwood commented on this theory:

The novel is entitled The Handmaid's Tale, not A Handmaid's Tale, so, despite never knowing the real name of the maid or ever her existence, we know that we are focusing on the individual, a person who has identity. The novel focuses on her inner world, her feelings and thoughts. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name; remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me. I want to steal something. 

Although Offred never reveals her name, it plays a significant role to her. The Offred’s identity has nothing to do with her: there have been Offreds before her; there will be Offreds after her, because if woman cannot conceive, she is being replaced with another maid. My name isn't Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it's forbidden. I tell myself it doesn't matter… but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. While in the show we find out that Offred’s name, indeed, is June. At the end of the first episode, we can see how Offred’s approach to life changes. Her face conveying determination rather than defeat when she decides to rebel against the system for the sake of her child. Nothing can change. It all has to look the same, because I intend to survive. For her. Her name is Hannah. My husband was Luke. My name is June. 

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Thus begins her empowerment. She has named herself, so she rejects being the property of a man. The book was written during the time of the second-wave feminism, when women were fighting for their rights for independence and equality with men. And although the book was written over 30 years ago, the events in the series take place in our time. Unconditional feminist Margaret Atwood paints a possible future in which women's emancipation, achieved by so many centuries and diligence, reverses and perishes under the suddenly returned patriarchy. In flashbacks we see how women have their bank cards canceled, transferring their funds to the accounts of their husbands or male relatives. 

Then being dismissed from work. And eventually being attributed a common good mission: to host (or take in? not sure what verb to use here) the right seed and bear the right children. Lesbians either hang, or (only in the case of strong ovaries) cut out their clitoris, preserving the fertility function. But it's not just gays, lesbians and feminism. The writer and authors of the series look much wider and see much more. They fear a world in which the authority will assume the right to impose and assert ranks and statuses, to assign roles and impose purposes. 

And, of course, they are calling for rebellion. The heroine's humility is only a temporary stage of adaptation. Adaptation not to a new system, but to the idea that a struggle will break out and blood will be shed. And there is no opportunity to remain silent and stand aside. “Now there has to be an us,” says June, having learned of the existence of resistance. “Because there is a them.” There will always be us and them. And there will always be a struggle. The literary version of Offred is defined by her passivity and unwillingness to fight. She possesses these qualities even before transformation into a handmaid. When the new regime rapidly stripped women of basic rights to have jobs or to keep money, she decided not to stand for herself or speak up. “All you have to do, I tell myself, is keep your mouth shut and look stupid. It shouldn’t be that hard.”

Offred’s mother who represents the second-wave of feminism goes to the protests to fight for the equality they have managed to obtain. June, on the other hand, does not go to any of these protests when women’s rights are threatened. Once in Gilead, she obeys to law and refuses to help May Day, secret resistance organization that is working against Gilead. She basically does nothing and her rebellion, such as it is, takes place in her head, her narration. She thinks, “I’d like to have Luke here, in this bedroom while I’m getting dressed, so I could have a fight with him. Absurd, but that’s what I want. […] What a luxury that would be”. By wishing for a fight with Luke, Offred means she is wishing a situation in which she can rebel, express her opinion and to be heard: situation that is not allowed in her real life.

By contrast, TV Offred is shown in much more feisty and curious way. She still does not rebel, but there are definitely more actions on her part. In the pre-Gilead scenes June goes with Moira on the women’s right protests and even helps May Day by retrieving a package from the bar at Jezebel's, the secret brothel/sex club. TV Offred tries to adapt herself to the situation as much as possible: stay away from the troubles where the consequences are too great (where they can pull out an eye or cut off her hand), and on the other hand, she uses every opportunity to preserve human dignity and humanity: gets a lover, participates in resistance (risks), starts a double relationship with Fred to be able to read magazines and see people (her best friend Moira in a brothel). And she does not give up hope for the fight. Does not leave hope “to kick these assholes’ asses” and to see a husband and daughter (in contrast to the book, there is hope in the series). 

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