Everything You Need To Know About The Handmaid's Tale Before Watching

Like a latent illness, The Handmaid’s Tale was introduced to the general public in 1986, but has been waiting until 2017 to blossom to its full potency. As with all effective science fiction, the novel's imagined future provides a lens through which we can reconsider our present. And through the distorted, misogynistic looking glass of The Handmaid’s Tale, our present isn’t looking too pretty.

The dystopian novel, written by the incomparable, prolific Margaret Atwood, envisions an America utterly altered by a religious coup. Offred, once a woman with a husband and child, now works as a handmaid: someone who bears the children of high-ranking officials. As Offred navigates the new social order in the Republic of Gilead, which pits women against women and executes any dissidents, she desperately fights to hold on to the woman she was before.

Now, an adaptation is arriving to Hulu that’s guaranteed to rock your world — and your conception of life in America. From basic plot background to juicy details surrounding the book’s publication, here's everything you need to know to get ready for the Hulu debut.

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Here's how the world (as we know it) ends.

No two pop culture apocalypses are the same, but many combine the same elements: climate change, fascist coups, and fear.

In The Handmaid's Tale, pollution and environmental disasters have led to widespread fertility issues. Amidst this rising tension, leaders from a fundamentalist Christian group, called the "Sons of Jacob," launch a coup and take over Congress. Their first step? Take away women's rights, and reorganize society along strict, fanatical lines. Think some Old Testament stuff.
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Who's Offred?

Offred is the teller of the harrowing tale. She, her husband, and daughter, Hannah, were caught during their escape from Gilead to nearby Canada. Her husband is killed, and her daughter taken. Since Offred was proven to be fertile, she's recruited to the ranks of Handmaids.

During her chronicle, Offred serves under the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy.

While Offred's pre-Gilead name is never mentioned in the book, her name is June in the Hulu adaptation.
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There are six different classes of legitimate women...

Wives are married to high-ranking individuals.

Daughters are the adopted and biological children of the ruling class.

Handmaids, like Offred, fulfill the social function of bearing children. In the book, any fertile woman who breaks societal laws is "reformed" by becoming a Handmaid.

Aunts are the strict, authoritarian women who train the Handmaids. They're also the only class of women allowed to read.

Marthas are older infertile women who work as housekeepers in high-ranking homes.

Econowives are married to the Average Joes of society. Without access to Marthas or Handmaids, Econowives are expected to clean the house, bear children, and provide companionship themselves.
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...and two classes of illegitimate women.

Of course, not everyones goes easy into that good Gilead night.

There are Unwomen, who are unable to integrate into the six roles. Think unmarried women, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and political dissidents. They're sent to the Colonies for back-breaking agricultural labor and a slow death.

Then, there are the Jezebels, a class of prostitutes designed for the Commanders. These women have been sterilized, work in state-sanctioned brothels, and wear sexualized costumes from the old days, like school uniforms.
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Here's the deal with Offred's name.

Offred’s name derives from a simple formula.

Her employer, the Commander, is named Fred. While working as his handmaid, she belongs to Fred. She is "of" Fred. One simple leap of arithmetic later, there you go: Offred.

Whoever filled the position before Offred was also called Offred. This naming system erases all individual identity.
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There's a dark logic behind the women's uniforms.

While you might love The Handmaid's Tale's unified color palette, you won't love its grim reasoning. Each woman dons a colored uniform that designates her societal role, visually enforcing Gilead's strict hierarchies.

Most iconically, handmaids are clad in bright scarlet. As Offred narrates in the book, "Everything except the wings around my face is red: The color of blood which defines us." You can take this color symbolism and run with it: Red may be linked to the scarlet "A" from The Scarlet Letter, the menstrual cycle, fertility, and more.

The high-ranking Wives wear blue, and that color is no surprise either. In classical art, the Virgin Mary wears blue, symbolizing femininity and purity simultaneously.

Marthas, the infertile housekeepers, wear green, the color of envy.

Daughters, the natural and adopted children of high-ranking families, wear white.
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Men are divided into four categories.

Like women, men are also expected to fit into strict roles.

Commanders of the Faithful, like Offred's employer, are high-ranking officials who are required to establish patriarchal households with their Wives.

Eyes are the secret police, who rove around in black vans.

Angels are soldiers fighting to expand Gilead's borders.

Guardians of the Faith are also soldiers, but not as powerful as the Angels. Their duties include standing at checkpoints and watching over Commanders' houses.
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This isn’t the first adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale.

While Margaret Atwood's sweeping novel is certainly cinematic, 1980s-era movie studios weren't nipping at the thought of producing such a feminist film. In 1990, The Handmaid's Tale was made at last. Written by dramatist Harold Pinter and starring Natasha Richardson, the film was a complete flop.

The L.A. Times reviewer griped, "The Handmaid's Tale doesn't engage us on enough present-tense levels so that we might see the shape of Atwood's scheme all around us." Trust us: That won't be a problem in the Hulu adaptation.

The iconic story has also been converted into opera, ballet, and theatrical form.
The Handmaid's Tale might inspire your next tattoo.

Offred finds strength in the defiant phrase, "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum," translated from Latin as, "Don't let the bastards grind you down."
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The original novel wasn't received as being a "realistic" dystopia.

As The Handmaid’s Tale hits Hulu, you’ll be seeing a whole slew of think pieces pondering whether this fictional story could be predicting a non-fictional future.

But this fear didn’t resonate to the book's reviewer in 1986.

In the New York Times, Mary McCarthy writes, “And yet what is lacking, I think — what constitutes a fundamental disappointment after a promising start — is the destructive force of satire. Nineteen Eighty-Four had it, A Clockwork Orange had it, even Brave New World had it, though Huxley was rather short on savagery. If The Handmaid's Tale doesn't scare one, doesn't wake one up, it must be because it has no satiric bite.”