Don`t Let The Bastards Grind you Down: The Testaments By Margaret Atwood

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum (Don`t let the bastards grind you down) the secret message of The Handmaid`s Tale has become the slogan of many feminists and others resisting against suppression

Margaret Atwood`s dystopian masterpiece has a sequel now. Offred, the protagonist of The Handmaid`s Tale, does get ground down by the bastards who control her life. There is no escape for her. In the Testaments, the newly release sequel, things have changed. It`s a thriller, it´s escapist and in this meaning it shares something with Hulu`s Handmaid`s Tale TV adaption. The action takes place again in Gilead a totalitarian theocracy.

This time it`s focused on the Aunts, the women who are entrusted with governing the other women of Gilead. These characters may remind you of mean nuns at a Catholic school or State Security agents in totalitarian states. In The Handmaid`s Tale Aunt Lydia was a sadistic cipher, a monster. In The Testament we get to know a new version of Aunt Lydia.

She is a victim herself, who asks the question: “ what good is it to throw yourself in front of a steamroller out of moral principles and then be crushed flat like a sock emptied of its foot?“ and she answers: „better to fade into the crowd the piously praising unctuous, hate-mongering crowd. Better to hurl rocks than to have them hurled at you.“

As The Testament opens she is preparing to use the power she has gained for another purpose. She is close to death, and she has to decide. “ Who to take down with me. I have to make my list.“ If you want to know, who will be Lydia`s victims – those who drive Gilead or those who oppose it – you should read The Testaments.

The Testaments is about women resisting totalitarian government, who fight back without ever getting ground down, it is aspirational in a way its predecessor never even claimed to be. Fighting back means sometimes having to make difficult decisions. Margaret Atwood puts a quote of Ursula Le Guin at the beginning of her story:

“Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake …. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one.”

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