10 Important Lessons I Learned From 'The Handmaid's Tale'

In an unfair society, everyone loses.
06/15/2017 08:00 am ET Updated Jun 16, 2017
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Haunting. Scary. Creepy. Too real.

These are phrases used to describe Hulu’s hit series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ based on Margaret Atwood’s book of the same title.

I read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ as a senior in high school, and I would agree with the descriptions. It is haunting, scary, creepy, and terrifying. However, I’ve come to realize that this is exactly why it’s such an important show.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ isn’t some “out-there” series that you can watch and then revel in the fact nothing like that could ever happen to you. The truly horrific aspect of the show is that so many of us can see elements of ourselves in the character and can see how, just like the women in the show, we could fall asleep until it’s way, way too late.

After finishing the season finale last night, I’ve come to realize that while the show is a source of entertainment, it’s also been educational. As is part of its goal, it’s helped me, an average, modern woman, awaken to some harsh, but important truths.

1. Freedom isn’t a guarantee.

We all get comfortable in our freedoms, assuming we’ll never have to defend them. However, as Offred shows us, these freedoms can be ripped away in the blink of the eye, in the change of governmental power, and on the whims of a select few.

2. Sexuality is power, which is dangerous.

Even in the strict world of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Offred clings to one source of power: her sexuality. She has no say over her body, over her reproductive rights, or over any decisions. However, as the series goes on, she learns that her sexuality is still a source of power, however demented, with men. She uses it to manipulate the Commander into getting what she wants, like visiting Moira. Is it right that Offred should have to use her sexuality in this way? Absolutely not. However, it does explain how no matter what’s going on, primal instinct will still dictate that sexuality is valued. It also shows us that all sources of power can be exploited, which is what happens in this dystopian world.

3. If you stay quiet, you lose your voice.

Offred is a reflective character, showing us her regrets. She repeatedly focuses on the idea that when they spoke out, it was too late. It’s a lesson for us all that if you are being treated unfairly, you have to speak up or risk being forever silenced.

4. Fear trumps all emotions.

The will to survive is strong. The fear of torture and loss of life is immense. So many times during the series, I found myself naively saying, “Just fight back! Don’t take this injustice!” But the series reminds us that it is easy to say these things in a place of safety. Fear is a strong emotion. It is only when we can overcome fear that we have a chance to let other ideas in, such as defiance.

5. Defiance isn’t easy.

Defiance takes extreme courage, something Offred and the other women didn’t have enough of at the beginning of the takeover. Offred has learned the hard way, though, how staying asleep can lead to loss. Now that she’s seen these truths, she’s able to dig deep inside and find her defiance. It starts out small, but by the end of the season, all of the women have a new look burning in their eyes.

6. The bond of a mother and child shouldn’t be tampered with.

The series explores this bond in a very twisted way, showing us what it looks like when women are only valued for reproduction. We also see so many horrific scenes of babies being ripped from mothers arms. The series also emphasizes that Offred’s desire to find her daughter, Hannah, drives many of her sacrifices and decisions.

7. Hopelessness breeds boldness.

When there’s nothing to lose, people are able to be bold. This society tries to create hopeless feelings through the use of The Eyes and complete lack of freedom. However, as the series unfolds, we and the leaders begin to realize that when you destroy a person’s hope, a dangerous person emerges.

8. Life as you know it isn’t guaranteed.

Life can change on a dime. We’ve heard it, and we’ve ignored it. This series reminds you, though, to appreciate the loved ones around you and the life you have while you have it.

Offred’s constant reminiscing about the simple, beautiful moments of her life as June hows us what matters most. It’s the touch of a loved one, the smile of a family member, and the simple moments of just being together. Hopefully, we never find ourselves in a world like this one, but in many ways, that’s irrelevant. Even in our world, life changes. Tragedies happens, and we lose loved ones. This is a reminder to not take life for granted.

9. A loveless world is bleak.

Take away romantic love and you’ve taken away the beauty of life. I love how the colors in this series reflect the sadness and the emptiness experienced. Romance, passion, and connection are what makes life beautiful. Without it, we see that life is simply empty.

10. In an unfair society, everyone loses.

So much focus is on Offred’s suffering, as it should be. She and the other handmaids are the victims in the series. However, I like that this series shows how Serena also loses. Although arguably at the top of society, Serena also endures pain and loss. We see the Commander rip away her rights and demean her. We see her lack of love, of connection, and of importance.

In a society that is unfair, no one really wins. This is perhaps the most important and applicable message we can take from the series in a world ripe with injustice.

Lindsay Detwiler is a high school English teacher and a romance author. Learn more about her seven novels at lindsaydetwiler.com.

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