Move over, “1984.” There’s a new dystopian novel topping the charts.
“New,” of course, is a relative term. “1984” was published in 1949, yet just two weeks ago it topped Amazon’s best-selling list after Kellyanne Conway infamously used the term “alternative facts.” Atwood’s novel, meanwhile, was published in 1985.
But it, like “1984,” depicts a stark future for a world led by an authoritarian government.
The reason for the immediate spike in the book’s popularity is likely its upcoming television adaptation, which will air on Hulu and stars Jordana Blake, Elisabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes. A trailer for the upcoming show dropped during the Super Bowl, which was watched by more than 111 million people.
Of course, a Super Bowl commercial alone wouldn’t likely cause such a spike — if it would, everyone would be purchasing Mr. Clean products or bottles of Bai.
Dystopian fiction, as The Washington Post’s Ron Charles noted, has seen a recent uptick since the election of President Trump. “Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ and Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ have all risen up the latest paperback bestseller list,” he wrote.
Many have argued, though, that Atwood’s novel is one of the more important in our new political climate. As Alex Hern wrote in The Guardian:
Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel is set in a near-future New England following the collapse of America into the authoritarian, theocratic state of Gilead. It was groundbreaking for its treatment of gender, depicting a state in which the advances of feminism have been comprehensively destroyed. Women are considered inferior to men, and their every behaviour is tightly controlled by the state. In particular, their role in reproduction is bound to a strict caste system: abortion is illegal, and fertile women are required to bear children for higher-status women.
Many find this to be a fitting cautionary tale in a new administration that many claim doesn’t respect women’s rights, so much so that more than 1 million people gathered in Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration to show support for a variety of women’s issues.
And, in fact, the demise of the United States in the novel comes from within, rather than from a radical outside group. Some have likewise compared Trump to a dictator working within the established system.
Those comparisons are eerie when one considers Atwood’s own words about the novel, as published by the Guardian in 2012:
Stories about the future always have a “what-if” premise, and The Handmaid’s Tale has several. For instance: if you wanted to seize power in the US, abolish liberal democracy and set up a dictatorship, how would you go about it? What would be your cover story? It would not resemble any form of communism or socialism: those would be too unpopular. It might use the name of democracy as an excuse for abolishing liberal democracy: that’s not out of the question, though I didn’t consider it possible in 1985.
Those similarities certainly haven’t been lost to readers, if Twitter is any indication.
Atwood herself has made the connection in the recent past.
When speaking of the #Repealthe19th hashtag that trended on Facebook, Atwood told the Guardian, “The 19th Amendment is what gave women the vote. So there are Trump supporters who want to take the vote away from women. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ unfolding in front of your very eyes.”
Though, perhaps its merely the dystopian novel of the week. If that’s the case, though, then as Vulture’s Jackson McHenry wrote, “Let’s pray that nothing happens that would make us all pick up ‘The Road.’”