[This story contains spoilers for The Testaments.]
Praise be! The highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale has arrived.
In Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, available at bookstores everywhere Tuesday, the author pens her long-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale 15 years after the original ending. After the original novel ended, readers were left wondering what happened to the story’s handmaid protagonist, Offred, after she entered a mysterious van. Did Offred escape and survive? Did Offred fall victim to Gilead? What happened to her baby? Is Gilead still in power or did the Republic decline?
“Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in,” Atwood had said when announcing the upcoming sequel.
The hype and anticipation surrounding Atwood’s sequel is so strong that even readers were shocked to discover a “retailer error” by Amazon broke the embargo, resulting in a “small number of copies” sent out early to readers. The fandom for Atwood’s original work grew even more after the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has proven to be a success. (The series was renewed for a fourth season this year.) Prior to the book hitting shelves, MGM and Hulu announced last Wednesday that they will also develop The Testaments for the screen as “an important extension” to showrunner Bruce Miller’s Emmy-winning drama starring Elisabeth Moss.
Now readers are finally able to learn what really happened to Handmaid Offred and Gilead, all these years later.
The Hollywood Reporter breaks down some of the biggest takeaways from The Testaments below.
Though readers were used to following along through the perspective of Offred in the original novel, The Testaments is narrated by three other women connected to Gilead: Agnes, a young woman raised in the Republic of Gilead; Jade, a Canadian teen who soon learns she was originally born in the oppressive society; and Aunt Lydia, the villain of both the novel and the series, who is played on the show by Ann Dowd.
Offred Is Alive
Readers of the novel have long wondered what exactly happened to Offred after boarding a secret van. In The Testaments, it is revealed that Offred survived her escape from the Commander and Serena Joy. Now classified as a domestic terrorist, Offred’s true whereabouts are unknown after she survived two assassination attempts. Although Offred no longer serves as the book’s narrator, she continues to have a heavy presence throughout the story.
Offred Has a Daughter
Readers are introduced to a young girl named Agnes, who has grown up in Gilead privileged because she is a Commander’s daughter. However, as the story continues, readers, along with Agnes, learn that she is not the Commander’s daughter biologically but rather the daughter of a handmaid whose whereabouts are unknown.
Offred Had a Second Child
Jade, a teen who is vocal about her distaste for the occurrences in Gilead, soon discovers that she is the Baby Nicole that was smuggled into Canada as an infant by Offred and Mayday. Though free, Jade continues to be a target in Gilead, as officials are determined to locate the infant and return her to her rightful home. After her adoptive parents are killed in a car bombing, Jade unravels her true story, as she not only learns her mother was a former handmaid but also that she could be the one to ultimately end Gilead altogether.
Aunt Lydia’s History Revealed
In one of the most surprising stories shared in The Testaments, Aunt Lydia’s pre-Gilead history is revealed. Though recognized as a villain in the original novel and having attained god-like status in Gilead, Aunt Lydia spends her days compiling evidence against men in power and writing her narrative in illegal writing practices. As she watches Gilead grow more corrupt, Aunt Lydia becomes involved with the Mayday, as she secretly works to bring down the regime she helped grow.
Atwood Hints at Corrupt Government and #MeToo
When Atwood first teased The Testaments, she revealed that the outside world we’ve been living in has served as inspiration and her story ultimately serves as a “warning” given the political parallels. Through Aunt Lydia’s eyes and ears on everything happening in Gilead, readers learn how corrupt and secretive Commanders have been, even with the most elite Commander poisoning his wife. After the disruptive secrets are released, Gilead officials are quick to deem the news as fake and refers to it all as a “Mayday plot.”
Atwood also hints at the #MeToo movement through the character of Dr. Grove. The trusted dentist is soon exposed as having regularly fondled his young patients during their appointments, causing distress to some of the women and invoking fear about testifying against him. “Much latitude is given by those in power to professionals who can relieve them of pain … in the new world of Gilead, as in the old, their sins are frequently forgiven them, ” Atwood writes.
Gilead Continues to Rule — But Not for Long
More than 15 years later, Gilead is still very much in existence, but not without protest. The novel hints at activists determined to take down the unlawful regime. After Gilead is threatened once corrupt secrets are revealed, Atwood hints that the republic does, in fact, have an ending.
Offred Makes a Brief Appearance
Though no longer a narrator but still a presence throughout the novel, Offred does make a brief appearance in the sequel.