What Real-Life Events Inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

The Handmaid’s Tale introduced fans to the world of red clocks, white bonnets, and Handmaids. The television series and novel follows one Handmaid in particular — a woman named Offred, or, as viewers eventually learn, June. 

Part of what makes this series so terrifying is its references to life before the dystopia. There are stories from the bible and even allusions to times in United States history. Here’s what we know about some of the symbolism used in this Hulu original television series. 

Actress Elisabeth Moss attends the premiere of Hulu's 'The Handmaid's Tale' season 2
Actor Elisabeth Moss attends the premiere of Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ season 2 | Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is based on the novel of the same title

Under his eye. The United States is pretty different in The Handmaid’s Tale, with some women working as Handmaids to high ranking offers. Although the book was written by Margaret Atwood in 1985, it was speculated to be about the future, with some estimating it takes place in the early 2000s. 

Even though it was written decades prior to the Hulu original series, some references still make it personal today. It’s no surprise that The Handmaid’s Tale takes inspiration from the real-life events of the Salem Witch Trials, a period of time associated with the demonization and murder of innocent women who were accused of witchcraft. (Oftentimes, these were just female homeowners.)

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Some ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ fans made connections to other works of literature

This novel and series also made references to other works of literature. In The Handmaid’s Tale, red is seen as a color of fertility, worn by the Handmaids as a symbol of the menstrual cycle and childbirth. 

In A Scarlet Letter, this one set during Puritan times, red has a negative connotation. With Hester Prynne wearing a “scarlet letter” as a mark of shame. “The Eyes of God,” similar to “Big Brother” in another dystopian novel 1984, are Gilead’s secret police. 

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There’s a direct reference to one biblical story in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

There are also some references to biblical stories. That includes the idea of the Handmaid and their role in society, and where they are trained — The Rachel and Leah Center (AKA The Red Center). 

Insider writes, “The center is a direct reference to the Old Testament story of Rachel and her sister Leah, both of whom married Jacob. While Leah had no trouble conceiving children, Rachel was unable to get pregnant. Frustrated, Rachel offered up her handmaid, Bilhah, to Jacob as a ‘vessel’ through which she could have children. Bilhah gave birth to two sons, both of whom were named by Rachel.”

This Bible story, included in The Handmaid’s Tale, serves as an inspiration for the Handmaids. Without their participation, albeit involuntary, Gilead would be unable to reproduce and create the next generation of citizens. 

The Handmaid’s Tale is available for streaming on Hulu.