‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: 6 Major Differences Between the Book and TV Adaptation

Since its publication in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood has become a literary classic revered by generations of readers. The story of a woman forced to live as a fertility slave in a fundamentalist Christian America was recently adapted into an acclaimed Hulu TV adaptation starring Elisabeth Moss as Offred, the titular handmaid of the title. Though the adaptation stays faithful to the core aspects of Atwood’s plot, some intriguing changes were made during the transition from page to screen.


   1. Not everyone is white


                                                                 Image courtesy of IndieWire

In the novel, no main characters are stated to be anything but Caucasian. Indeed, Offred tells the reader that the new fundamentalist regime has banned “children of Ham”—black people—from living in their new society, Gilead, transporting them to an unknown fate in “the national homelands” of the Midwest. The TV adaptation, however, stars several people of color, including Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley as Offred’s friend Moira and O-T Fagbenle as Offred’s husband, Luke. Far from being exiled from Gilead, women of color are also forced to serve as handmaids and bear the children of the virtually all white male elites.



    2. We know Offred’s name


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As the source material explains, “Offred” is not the protagonist’s birth name but a portmanteau of “of Fred”, Fred being the commander holding her in bondage. While close readers have theorized that her name is June based off a short passage describing life in a re-education facility, the show confirms this theory by having Offred reveal at the end of the first episode that her name is, in fact, June.


    3. Offred is much more rebellious

offered rebellious

   Image courtesy of the Daily Mail

The literary version of Offred is defined by her passivity, a quality she possesses even before her transformation into a handmaid: “All you have to do, I tell myself, is keep your mouth shut and look stupid. It shouldn’t be that hard.” Recalling how the new regime rapidly stripped women of basic rights to hold jobs or keep money, she states that she did not speak up or stand up for herself in any way. By contrast, TV Offred is shown attending a peaceful protest-turned government massacre with Moira, and rails against the indignities of handmaid life during her internal monologues.



   4. Ofglen’s backstory is expanded


                                                          Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Early on in the book, Offred meets Ofglen, a serious handmaid who reveals to Offred her status as a member of the resistance shortly before her unexplained disappearance. The adaptation takes off from where Atwood left off by fleshing out Ofglen’s (Alexis Bledel) history—she was an academic as well as an openly gay woman with a wife and son—integrating her more closely into Offred’s journey beyond her role as a shopping companion. In one of horrific moments of the series absent from the novel, Ofglen is subjected to genital mutilation as punishment for an affair with a female servant—an act of “gender treachery” according to the Gilead regime.



  5. Offred’s mother is absent

no mom

                                                                    Image courtesy of IndieWire

Offred’s straight-shooting, second-wave feminist mom is a major force in the book, with Offred often turning to her memories of their relationship on opposing sides of the generation divide: “I didn’t want to be the model offspring, the incarnation of her ideas. We used to fight about that.” However, the character has yet to appear on screen once in the 2017 version, and it seems that some elements of her fiery personality have been integrated into Offred’s character.



 6. Serena Joy is much younger…and meaner

Serena Joy

                                                                    Image courtesy of TVLine

In the novel, Serena Joy, the wife of Commander Fred, is an aging former televangelist with arthritis and a cane. But on TV, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) is a young and beautiful woman with a bitter personality and a penchant for power games. It is even hinted that she helped bring the new regime into being before her forced removal from power.



Featured image courtesy of Cosmopolitan