While a small, almost missable cameo, The Handmaid’s Tale’s author Margaret Atwood appeared in the series premiere in a sneaky and clever way.
Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale was famously adapted from the novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, however, the show also secretly included a cameo from the author in The Handmaid’s Tale series premiere. Although much more was introduced to the story since The Handmaid’s Tale season 1, the series’ first season faithfully followed 1985’s The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood. A dystopian novel set in a futuristic post-U.S. theocratic nation named Gilead, The Handmaid’s Tale’s story was described by Atwood as a dramatization of what would happen if “certain casually-held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions.”
The Handmaid’s Tale novel instilled real-life patriarchal beliefs in an imagined near-future where a totalitarian regime violently restricted women’s agency. While some aspects are voluntarily taken to the extremes, women’s agency is still violently restricted worldwide. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale aptly portrayed the novel’s horrific patterns, even as it added to the book’s story. Indeed, with The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 reversing season 1, the Hulu thriller proved yet again to be faithful to the original material, and sneaking in an author cameo in The Handmaid’s Tale’s series premiere further adds to the show’s adherence and inclination to honor The Handmaid’s Tale book.
Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale Cameo Honors The Source Material
Although it’s common for authors of the original material to appear in TV shows adapted from it, The Handmaid’s Tale’s secret author cameo was done exceptionally well. Not only did it happen in a crucial scene for Elizabeth Moss’ June/Offred and the establishment of the kind of nation Gilead was, but it was also done in a way that didn’t overshadow the scene. In The Handmaid’s Tale season 1, episode 1’s scene involving Aunt Lydia forcing the Handmaids to blame Janine for what happened to her and June refusing to at the beginning, Margaret Atwood appearing as an Aunt to punish June with a slap was just the perfect cameo.
While Aunt Lydia’s Testaments transformation was completed by The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 and the character, along with the figure of Aunts in general, was never really positive, it’s significant that Atwood appeared as an Aunt in The Handmaid’s Tale season 1, episode 1. As the author of The Handmaid’s Tale book, Gilead, and its characters, Atwood created and shaped something entirely new. This position could also be ascribed to Aunts, who, more horrifyingly, violently shaped fertile women into Handmaids. It’s also fitting that Atwood’s Aunt Margaret was doing precisely that in her cameo, trying to bend June into her role as future Offred without being fully recognizable.
When The Handmaid’s Tale Stops Following Atwood’s Book
The Handmaid’s Tale season 1 ended with June entering the Eyes’ van and a voiceover that counted as her inner monologue, reprising the end of The Handmaid’s Tale novel. With The Handmaid’s Tale reaching a final season 6, the show has long stopped following Atwood’s book, and it did so with The Handmaid’s Tale season 1 finale ending scene, as June’s story in Atwood’s novel stopped with her entering the Eyes’ van too. While the Hulu show faithfully portrayed June’s story, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale still hasn’t included one specific thing.
The Handmaid’s Tale book included an epilogue where a historian recounted his work transcribing Offred’s tapes to a university conference’s participants. This way, Atwood’s novel ended up painting a grim picture as, even if it was Offred’s story to be told by her, it still had to be filtered through the words of a man that didn’t necessarily believe everything she recounted, despite Gilead being firmly in the past. While it’s unknown whether Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale will end that way too, audiences will surely know soon, with season 6 being the final one.
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