The sequel to the classic The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments provides the readers with an ending to the mysteries of Gilead, an imaginary theocracy regime.
Highly recommended to fans of The Handmaid’s Tale. For those who has not yet read The Handmaid’s Tale, both books are recommended because the dystopias are presented in beautiful (and humorous) language. Read The Handmaid’s Tale first to know what is going on in The Testaments.
A successful sequel: the end of Gilead
–book review of The Testaments
Like most curious readers—after turning the last page of The Handmaid’s Tale where Offred leaves in the black van—I wondered what would happen next to the character. I wondered the possibilities in my head: would the pregnant Offred die, become a handmaid of another household, or would she survive and send the baby away?
Atwood leaves the ending open-ended to the readers in the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, and I looked for the answer. In order to find the answers, I looked into different sources (even the TV series)—not surprisingly I found The Testaments—sequel of The Handmaid’s Tale. Unlike the ordinary sequels where the author picks up the story right where it ends in the previous chapters, The Testaments is written 35 years after the last tale, and the story happens 15 years after the capture of Offred. Although what exactly Offred goes through after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale remains mostly unknown to the readers, its sequel successfully sets up a clear and comprehensive image of Gilead, extends the voices to three more females with various backgrounds, identities, and connections to Gilead to increase credibility of the narratives, and the sequel gives a satisfying ending to the story in The Handmaid’s Tale (although not directly).
Male narratives dominated dystopian novels where the world is described in a male perspective. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood has already challenged the notion by creating a strong and colorful female character and narrator. In The Testaments, her stunning style continues: Atwood creates 3 more characters and narratives, including Aunt Lydia, Nicole, and Agnes. Out of all three characters, one defends and represents the theocracy regime as an Aunt, one grows up in Canada where most people resisted Gilead, and one character who grows up in a privileged household as the daughter of a Commander. While in The Handmaid’s Tale, readers are only given insights into the worlds of the Handmaids, one part of the social makeup of Gilead, in its sequel readers are given a full picture of the people of power and at loss of power in the dystopian world. The Testaments finishes the building of a clear and comprehensive depiction of a dystopian regime from within and outside (Canada and Mayday resistance), which is the continuation of the story of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Although the narratives are no longer of Offred, the character readers grew familiar with in The Handmaid’s Tale, in The Testaments, Atwood did not write about a brand new story in Gilead—in fact, she continues the story by building a new and more comprehensive image of Aunt Lydia, the definite antagonist in the previous book—and she brings up the possibility of Nicole and Agnes, the half-sisters, being the daughters of Offred. To the readers craving to read more about the tale and wanting to know the story after The Testaments (readers like me), The Testaments gives the perfect answers. As a reader, I loved seeing the connections between the two books while reading the different and new perspectives. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Aunt Lydia was a distant character whom Offred hatreds: there was no narration of who she is, how she comes to her place, and why she protects the regime as a woman herself. In the sequel, all of the unknowns become clear to the audience—instead of being a ruthless character, Atwood even appeals to the sympathy of the audience of her experiences. Through the narrative of Aunt Lydia, which is mixed with that of other two characters, readers are given a more comprehensive picture of not only Gilead but also Aunt Lydia and other Aunts in Ardua Hall. The new narrative is significantly different from The Handmaid’s Tale where only the perspective of a handmaid is presented.
As Atwood herself writes in the acknowledgements of The Testaments, “one question about The Handmaid’s Tale that came up repeatedly is: How did Gilead fall?” The The Testaments, according to Atwood, offers the answer to the frequently asked question. Atwood says, “Totalitarianisms may crumble from within, as they fail to keep the promises that brough them to power; or they may be attacked from without; or both.” In the case of the sequel, Atwood creates a fall of Gilead that is reasonable for the readers and in the government aspect.
Although we do not know the fate of Offred with certainty after reading the sequel The Testaments, more answers to confusions and questions can be found in the stunning tale. The author brings the iconic dystopian story of The Handmaid’s Tale to a “stunning conclusion” in The Testaments. Like the author herself reflects, after 35 years of the publication of The Handmaid’s Tale, gender issues are ever more pressing and relevant to the modern world. In a way, The Testaments is a new reminder of the possibility or tendency of a gender oppressive regime (Gilead).
Information: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood