There’s only a week left before this year’s election. The campaign trails are taking their last, gasping breaths, finally, and we’re almost home free from what’s felt like the longest, most painful, most soul-irking torture known to American politics. Finally. As readers we should just admit that, this year especially, books have been our happy place, our sanctum away from FOX News and email scandals and all those Bad Hombres. But, as BookRiot reminded us, some books often serve more as a model for tense times than a refuge from it. We’re talking about A Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s hellish thriller and prime example of books that stir election anxieties when read in the context of today.
Earlier this year, Bookstr selected the Atwood classic for our book club podcast. Coming away from the dystopic novel, as many of our readers may have found, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the parallels between Atwood’s world and the world that could come to be – depending on election results.
Think of Offred, Atwood’s protagonist. Think of the limitations on woman’s freedom. And yes, think of the tyrannical censorship that’s rooted at the base of the novel. Alright, so we won’t be living in a world with birthers and red clad women – regardless of who wins the election – but in a U.S under Donald Trump, the country could experience a departure from headway we’ve made in combating discrimination and sexism, rather than a continuation of good work and progress. The blatant sexism, leaked videos, threats to sue women who call him out on assault, threats to sue papers that give him a bad name – the potential for a Republican saturated court that could overturn Roe v. Wade… This is scary stuff, people.
But the parallels between what Trump portends for the future and what A Handmaid’s Tale chronicles goes beyond treatment of women. The book also tackles the resounding discrimination, so horrendous in this year’s election, against Muslims in America. BookRiot points to one (of many) anti-Muslim ideologues that plagues the Handmaid’s world:
“They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time…That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary.”
These words speaks volumes to growing phobias in the U.S. and around the world, and offer a bleak future of what could be if someone with the same discriminatory sentiments were to suddenly have presidential power. Trump has spoken about deporting Muslims, registering those he allows to stay on U.S. ground, and cutting the funnel for future immigration necessary to those fleeing war and instability. When we look for similarities between fiction and real policy, the mind doesn’t have to stretch too far.
Of course, it’s important to bear in mind that this is a work of fiction; we are reading a tale that comes from Atwood’s imagination. But, then again, it’s also important to remember that Atwood’s imagination is curbed and wrought with what she’s lived through – women’s rights movement, civil rights, Vietnam, Roe v. Wade, you name it. So is her work unprompted; is it surprising that Atwood was thinking about dystopic possibilities and tyrannical modes of policing only a thin skin away from our own?
Even when we escape to books, it’s impossible to not take pieces and parts of the real world with you – and you should. To better understand the stakes of the present, it’s imperative that you do. Although it’s not just A Handmaid’s Tale and it’s not just sci-fi, this book caters well to the fears and anxieties of today. Atwood’s book, and the presentist frame of mind it encourages, is a reminder that our political world is far from stable. It’s prone to change and uprooting, and as the election approaches, a large degree of that change will fall to the voters. Make sure you vote November 8th!
And don’t forget to tell us what books feel particularly topical to you this election season.
Featured image courtesy of The Verge.