TAPESTRY

How Margaret Atwood's Puritan ancestors inspired The Handmaid's Tale

At the Restorying Canada conference, Margaret Atwood describes the inspiration for her novel, The Handmaid's Tale.
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Margaret Atwood still has the first copy of George Orwell's 1984 that she bought as a teenager. The paperback had a somewhat salacious cover with "lots of cleavage." She read it and remembered it well. 
Nothing went into that book that people had not done somewhere at some time already before.- Margaret Atwood

In 1984, Atwood wrote her own dystopian fiction novel, The Handmaid's Tale, which has been turned into an Emmy award-winning T.V. series starring Elisabeth Moss. 

At the Restorying Canada conference at the University of Ottawa, the evening's moderator, professor Emma Anderson, asked Atwood about the elements that influenced the novel.

"One was my study of 17th-century Puritan New England," said Atwood. "I have a personal connection because some of my ancestors were creepy 17th-century Puritan New Englanders. One was even implicated in witchcraft. She's in a book by Cotton Mather. That's why The Handmaid's Tale is dedicated to Mary Webster. My granny was a Webster."

Atwood says the story was also influenced by the rise of the religious right in the U.S. during the early 1980s.

When Atwood was writing The Handmaid's Tale, she says she mused about what kind of totalitarian dictatorship could occur in the U.S. 

"If the United States were to have a totalitarian dictatorship, what kind of totalitarian dictatorship would it be? It wouldn't be communism. I used to think it wouldn't be, 'Oh, we're a liberal democracy, but in order to preserve liberal democracy we have to put in all of these laws and arrest all of these people.  I didn't think it would be that...I might have been wrong about that one. We'll wait and see."

Click LISTEN above to hear this Q&A.

This segment originally aired June 4, 2017. 


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