Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Handmaid's Tale ~ Margaret Atwood & Astrology

Mention of the novel and movie of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale came up in a post last week. I've since watched the movie version on tape. I don't feel inclined to depress myself further by reading the book, though. It was first published in 1985, the movie was released in 1990, its screenplay begun by Harold Pinter, but he is reported to have abandoned it partway through, to be completed by another writer.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story: a dystopian novel along the lines of Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World, Revolt in 2100, and others. The Handmaid's Tale is somewhat different, it focuses on the situation and lifestyles of of females, at a time in the "near future". Of course, the near future in 1985(book) or 1990 (film) would have been 2000 or earlier. We ought to feel lucky, I guess, to have reached 2011 relatively unscathed! It's a trap sci-fi and other futuristic authors often fall into: not setting their stories far enough into the future. The movie falls down badly on this score, because computers, fashions, cars etc are not the modern versions of 2011 or later. Visuals say 1990 - which does kind of negate the thrust of the plot. That aside, the movie is well acted. The late Natasha Richardson played the lead; Robert Duval and Aidan Quin have supporting roles.

From Amazon
In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be.

This nightmarish situation has arisen following ecological degradation, nuclear war and radiation which, together, have rendered many women infertile, and some men impotent. A theocratic, male chauvinist dictatorship has been established following a staged terrorist attack which killed the President and much of Congress. The US constitution is suspended under the pretext of restoring order.

From Wikipedia, link above (on the novel):

Taking advantage of electronic banking, they were quickly able to freeze the assets of all women and other "undesirables" in the country, stripping them of their rights. The new theocratic military dictatorship, styled "The Republic of Gilead", moved quickly to consolidate its power and reorganize society along a new militarized, hierarchical, compulsorily Christian regime of Old Testament-inspired social and religious orthodoxy among its newly created social classes.

In the movie, by the way, I didn't catch sight of a cross at any time, nor any mention of Jesus. The New Testament seems to have been completely overlooked - unless, perhaps, the film censors had refused to allow certain depictions (?) I did notice the symbol "the all-seeing eye", which is usually connected to freemasonry. How significant that is meant to be, or if it is in fact described in the novel, I do not know.

In a New York times book review from 1986, written by Mary McCarthy I noticed something interesting. Ms McCarthy wrote:
Surely the essential element of a cautionary tale is recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock. We are warned, by seeing our present selves in a distorting mirror, of what we may be turning into if current trends are allowed to continue. That was the effect of Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its scary dating, not 40 years ahead, maybe also of Brave New World and, to some extent, of A Clockwork Orange. It is an effect, for me, almost strikingly missing from Margaret Atwood's very readable book The Handmaid's Tale, offered by the publisher as a "forecast" of what we may have in store for us in the quite near future.

Still, even when I try, in the light of these palely lurid pages, to take the Moral Majority seriously, no shiver of recognition ensues. I just can't see the intolerance of the far right, presently directed not only at abortion clinics and homosexuals but also at high school libraries and small-town schoolteachers, as leading to a super-biblical puritanism by which procreation will be insisted on and reading of any kind banned. Nor, on the other hand, do I fear our "excesses" of tolerance as pointing in the same direction. Liberality toward pornography in the courts, the media, on the newstands may make an anxious parent feel disgusted with liberalism, but can it really move a nation to install a theocracy strictly based on the Book of Genesis? Where are the signs of it?

Well, Ms McCarthy, a lot has changed since 1986. I can quite easily see that "essential element of a cautionary tale" here - more easily even than in the novels 1984 or Fahrenheit 451.

A passing reader might be interested to see my post dated Saturday 20 August 2011.

Wondering about Margaret Atwood's astrology, considering this dark and rather frightening storyline, I took a look at her natal chart. She was born in Ottawa, Canada on 18 November 1939 at 5pm (Astrodatabank).

In an article about a more recent book by Ms Atwood The Year of the Flood (more dystopian fare) is this snippet:
Ms. Atwood, writing in longhand, creates a tree of characters and charts that pinpoint their birthdays, and even casts their horoscopes. She sees in astrology a device to get people to talk about themselves.

“You wouldn’t want your character to have the wrong horoscope any more than you would want them to have the wrong name,” Ms. Atwood said mischievously

So - an interest in astrology! That is good to know. I'll give some of her books a try.

Sun in Scorpio - there's a start, Scorpio is the signature sign for darkness, paranoia and suchlike.

Ms Atwood's chart is well spread out, with a multitude of possible "patterns", which I'll not go into here, except to say that it's an indication of someone with varied interests and skills.

Moon is in Aquarius, conjunct Mars, and in challenging square aspect to her Scorpio Sun. She obviously has a pull towards futuristic scenarios - though not the spaceship/aliens type of futuristic fiction. Still, Aquarius Moon would indicate a pull towards the unexpected, and any kind of future - both.

Uranus, ruler of Aquarius is in Earthy Taurus and opposes her Sun. This provides a balancing of her Moon/Aquarian drive to the outlandish with a more down to earth attitide. Which does describe, rather well, her type of science fiction, or as she prefers to label it "speculative fiction".

Her Scorpio Sun reflects darkly creative imaginings. The link to religion seen in The Handmaid's Tale, also perhaps in her other works, could link to the trine between Sun and Jupiter (religion) with, also Mercury and Venus conjoined in Sagittarius, a sign ruled by Jupiter.


James Higham said...

Taking advantage of electronic banking, they were quickly able to freeze the assets of all women and other "undesirables" in the country, stripping them of their rights.

Perfect example of what I was referring to last week - victimhood.

Twilight said...

James Higham ~~ I try to keep up with your many posts about feminism, but sometimes I have to pass. My own view is that if we treat one another as simply fellow humans, not different genders, the "feminazi" thing you often quote wouldn't happen.

I'm not sure what you mean by this quote from Wikipedia being an example of victimhood. It refers to a novel not to real life. In this novel there's no implied backlash against "feminazis" - the whole plot centres on the need to procreate - and a cruel theocratic militaristic coup.
Many women in the novel are as cruel as the men - they are almost all dehumanised in one way or another.

Dunyazade said...


This guy has a point of view and won't let go. I'm bet he has a loooot of fixed signs :p

Twilight said...

Dunyazade ~~ Yes, quite likely!
Life's "slings & arrows" probably have a lot to do with it also. :-)

Wisewebwoman said...

At the time MA wrote the book it was an astonishing insight into the future if extreme theocracy was unchecked. As it is today - supported by tax dollars.
The separation of church and state has not happened in the states and I am consistently puzzled by the continued mention of both God and religion when it comes to political candidates for office. None more extreme than Perry.
I honestly couldn't tell you of the religious affiliation of any politicians here in Canada.

Twilight said...

Wisesebwoman ~~ Yes - if she was writing today it wouldn't be nearly as amazing - but back in 1985 I doubt things were nearly as bad as now re potential for dominionism.

UK and Canada are probably much the same - there was never talk of religion and politics in the same breath as I recall - Tony Blair converted to RC I think, but even then he didn't go on about it.

Vanilla Rose said...

I am not the best travelled person around, never having left Europe, but I very much get the impression that the UK and Canada, along with Australia and New Zealand, are quite significantly to the left of the US politically. Ie the US version of left-wing politicians would be considered right-wing here.

Vanilla Rose said...

I also had a look round Mr Higham's blog, but his post on ecoxenophobia rather lost me. I think what I didn't understand was the implication (I think from one of his supporters in Australia) that greens would support eco-xenophobia. I'm greener than a leaf with emerald raindrops on St Patrick's Day and one of my first blog posts was condemning the cull of ruddy ducks!

Twilight said...

Vanilla Rose ~~~ You're right - there is no left-wing here, as I knew it in the UK. I think McCarthyism killed all left-ish ideas decades ago, and Republicans have played on this ever since.
some people here think that the country has moved even further right than it was 30 years ago.

Don't know if it'll ever improve without some kind of revolution, which isn't a good prospect.


re James Higham's blog -I don't agree with many of his views, but I do read him because I don't want my own views to become too heavily prejudiced and blinkered, different opinions can help to avoid this....
....but tend to cause high blood pressure at times;

Anna Van Z said...

Twilight, please do read the novel if you are willing - there is much, much more in there in the way of details. It will give you an additional perspective on what Atwood was conveying with this story.

Another amazing novel that will haunt you is Alice Walker's "Possessing the Secret of Joy".

Twilight said...

Anna Van Z ~~~ I have ordered a used copy from e-bay, Anna - and look forward to reading it (when I'm feeling relatively calm and non-depressed) ;-)

Thanks for the Alice Walker book recommendation - I shall investigate that one.