Watching the Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu made me realize that I couldn’t remember most of the details of the original story. I remembered that the Handmaid was called to the commander’s office for what she thought would be a sexual tryst but turned out to be a game of scrabble. I remembered the handmaid storing butter to use as a hand cream.  I couldn’t recall how closely the Hulu series mirrored the book so it was time to do something I rarely do, re-read.  

I delved into Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and barely came up for air– it is still one of the best books I’ve ever read.   Most of the book is the same as the first season of the series. The biggest difference is Serena, the commander’s wife and June’s relationship with her.  Then I read Religion in the Handmaid’s Tale (2019) by Colette Tennant, and now I understand both the Hulu series and the book even more.

Tennant explains the obvious, such as why the Rachel and Leah Center is so named. But she also explains the religious symbolism in most characters’ names. As a Jew, I was not aware that Lydia, Martha, and Serena have New Testament connections.  I most certainly did not know that the name Gilead appears several times in the Bible including in Genesis.

Tennant explains that “The Handmaid’s Tale brims over with examples of religion gone awry.” (58). She details misquoted bible passages and references to religion that I did not pick up.  Religion in the Handmaid’s Tale ( 2019)  deals with only the first two seasons of the series but I now that I’ve read this reference guide, I have a deeper understanding of the world of Gilead and how it uses religion for coercion, not spirituality.

Margaret Atwood’s new sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale is titled The Testaments it will be released on September 10. The story is reported to be set 15 years after the original book and will not follow the story line of the Hulu series. Yes, of course, this new Handmaid’s Tale will go on the top of my reading list.

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