The Handmaid’s Tale

No book has ever frightened me as much as ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’; no other novel has presented such a plausible account of how a democratic and civilised society can turn in a terrifyingly short period of time into one based on pure repression, terror and the imposition of silence, and when I read about events such as the rise of the Tea Party or what is taking place in Alabama I find that my mind rushes to those few pages in Margaret Atwood’s novel in which she describes how a few vague rumours of certain reactionary measures happening elsewhere in society very swiftly take on the form of concrete prohibitions which have devastating impact on the everyday lives of the protagonists. For all that I take hope from the movement to ‘occupy everywhere’ and, let us presume, take control of our planet from those forces which remain determined to reduce every aspect of human life to a brutal and cynical war of all against all, with all other values subservient to the need to acquire material and immaterial wealth at all and any cost, with the losers in the battle (ultimately, all of us) condemned to lives of desperation, terror and hatred and suspicion of our neighbours, despite as I say my fervent hope that that part of the 99% which has awoken to the terrifying future that potentially awaits us can somehow prevail against the forces of chaos and destruction that have been unleashed, I do find that the echoes of Atwood’s dire prognosis of the final collapse of a civilisation are becoming deafening. Those who choose to ignore them, and to abjure their ethical responsibility to take a stand, are electing in so doing to remain not just deaf but also, in the terms defined by another well-known novel which illustrates clearly how collective moral cowardice could lead to a swift collapse into barbarism, blind.

The Handmaid’s Tale

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