Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Being the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, I knew I had to buy The Testaments when it was released.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a famous dystopian novel in which Margaret Atwood pictures a future dominated by men whilst women are subjugated. Told by Offred, we see what the life of a Handmaid is like and trust me, it’s not pleasant. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 yet due to recent political and social issues in the United States, Atwood was moved to write a sequel. Atwood’s subtle cleverness is what makes The Handmaid’s Tale speak volumes. Every feminist should read this novel. I knew that The Testaments would live up to The Handmaid’s Tale‘s standards.

Personally, I feel that The Testaments is very relevant to today’s society. Atwood clearly wrote the novel to combat the societal issues women face these days. It is highly important for today’s world, especially with our embarrassment of a president.

However, as a novel, I feel that it does not stand alone. One of my English teachers once told me that for a novel to be great, it needs to stand on its own; have its own credibility and not depend on its previous novel. I do feel that The Testaments has credibility however it relies a lot on The Handmaid’s Tale. I surely would not understand The Testaments if I had not read The Handmaid’s Tale before it. You need to consider the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale is told by Offred who is an intelligent woman. She perceives the world of Gilead in a complex way. Her use of language is very interesting. You need to read the novel word for word to get what I’m saying. I expected The Testaments to be the same or better. But of course, sequels never live up to the first novel. Do not get me wrong; The Testaments is good but not as good as The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Testaments is literally three testaments of three different women; Aunt Lydia, Agnes Jamima (the daughter of a high-ranking Commander who expresses the oppression she feels living in Gilead’s society that limits women) and Daisy (who lives in Canada and is told that she was taken away from Gilead as a child). It is interesting to explore these three perspectives however none of them are as intelligent as Offred.

You’d think that Agnes is well off and is simply complaining about her situation. However, we need to consider that this is her life and it is limited due to Gilead’s rules. Agnes may be the daughter of a high-ranking Commander however we see how society treats her unjustly. When news comes out that her mother was actually a Handmaid, suddenly Agnes is shunned by society. All of society considers the Handmaids sluts in their lives before Gilead. Agnes even says how they are still sluts in Gilead, but now in a different way. This shows how judgmental the Gileadean society is of women. Furthermore, Agnes is not allowed to read or write. They only learn embroidery, gardening and mannerisms. Young girls are forced to marry Commanders, reflecting on the current issue of child marriage. Agnes’ friend, Rebecca, was so upset about getting married that she inflicted self-harm onto herself. She simply did not want to get married.

Furthermore, the simple fact that Agnes is not educated about sex and about her body really is horrible. Society simply expects her to get married off to a Commander or a Guardian and “know” what to do and how to take care of herself. The taboo on sex education is a big issue in today’s society too and unfortunately it is the women in society that suffer the most. This is how Atwood brings out our societal issues through the dystopian world of Gilead. We can relate to Agnes Jamima in The Testaments.

A complete opposite to Agnes is Daisy. Well, she’s actually not Daisy. I tend to eye-roll at clichés and unfortunately Atwood included a slight cliché in her novel. Daisy is actually Baby Nicole who was smuggled out of Gilead as a baby to Canada. Nicole and Agnes are half-sisters and manage to unite due to Aunt Lydia’s intervention. Nicole’s role is a minor one. We see the difference in culture when considering Agnes and Nicole which is interesting.

Finally, the one who stole the show (in my opinion), Aunt Lydia.

Aunt Lydia is the mastermind behind the entire novel. It is due to Aunt Lydia’s sly and cunning personality that she brings about the downfall of Gilead. I honestly love that. After having read The Handmaid’s Tale, we have a very negative view of Aunt Lydia however The Testaments opens up a side to Aunt Lydia that shows how she is the ideal woman. You do anything to survive when you’re being subjugated. However morality kicks in and Aunt Lydia does what is right. In Aunt Lydia’s final writings she says;

“You’ll labor over this manuscript of mine, reading and rereading, picking on nits as you go, developing the fascinated but also bored hatred biographers so often come to feel for their subjects. How can I have behaved so badly, so cruelly, so stupidly? you will ask. You yourself would never have done such things! But you yourself will never have had to.”

And that is the definition of the novel. It is due to these strong women that we will never have to encounter what they suffered from. They were the foundation for a future of free women. Aunt Lydia is to be highly respected even though she had her faults.

What is important to note is Prof. Pieixoto’s views during the Thirteenth Symposium on Gileadean Studies taking place in the fictional future of 2197. His comments during the Twelfth Symposium were solely based on the Commander in Offred’s tale, considering Offred the narrator completely irrelevant. However, during the Thirteenth Symposium, we see how he has changed his views since his main focus is on the women in these testaments. The fact that Prof. Moon Crescent is also the president of the organization shows how women are treated in this supposedly better futuristic world.

Along with the lack of complexity and the slight cliché, Atwood’s writing was also not its best. I felt that the characters of Nicole and Agnes were underdeveloped. The last hundred pages of the novel were rushed. I felt like it was a bit too good to be true in the end. Even the symposium did not give much insight into the conclusions of the futuristic world regarding Gilead. I enjoyed the novel however it still did not have that awe feeling like its predecessor.

Check out the link below to order your version of The Testaments on Amazon!

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