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The Handmaid’s Tale vs. The Handmaid’s Tale. The Graphic Novel as a Modern Reading of the Traditional Novel

The Handmaid’s Tale vs. The Handmaid’s Tale. The Graphic Novel as a Modern Reading of the Traditional Novel

Margaret Atwood, one of the most famous Canadian writers, whose rich and varied oeuvre covers novels, short fiction pieces, poetry, graphic novels, comic strips, and literary criticism, is hugely popular among readers and critics alike, arguably because she escapes simple classification, thus providing a neverending riddle to the curious audiences.

She is a witty author tackling serious subjects, a feminist able to create diverse and believable male characters, a keen observer of pop culture who is always ready to distort and parody it, an active participant in the mass media, using them to her own ends, and finally, a steadfast critic who is not afraid to condemn ecological negligence, excessive consumerism, and violence (Van Spanckeren and Castro 1988: XX). Among the enduring concerns in her work, there are women’s rights, ecology, and politics, all of them reflected in her most famous novel to date, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Adapted many times and in multiple forms, the story has been recontextualized in the late 2010s with the simultaneous emergence of the popular serial by Hulu/MGM and the graphic novel by Renée Nault. Both versions constitute a fresh look at the classic story by bringing it to the (audio)visual medium and thus gaining new significance for the 21st century audiences.

This paper aims to read the classic novel through the lens of the visual medium to find new overtones in it. Since the graphic novel is removed by over three dec- ades from its literary predecessor, its analysis may grant a valuable insight into the interpretations and expectations of the new generation of readers. By juxtaposing the two versions and by applying a close reading, it is possible to discover the well-known tale all over again and consider it from the perspective of the tech-savvy reader living in a media saturated world. As the original novel has come into the spotlight again in the 2010s, when the handmaids became the symbol of the new fight for women’s rights, people were already aware of the power of media and media manipulation, as well as the impact of the media on the life of an ordinary person. It has come to be indisputable that the image can be a powerful tool, with a much stronger influence than the written text. Therefore, taking this aspect into consideration, it becomes apparent that a visual medium can be much more efficient in disseminating the message among the 21st century audience. 

(Featured image attributed to Victoria Pickering under a Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)

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Katarzyna Machała (2021). The Handmaid’s Tale vs. The Handmaid’s Tale. The Graphic Novel as a Modern Reading of the Traditional Novel. Brno Studies in English, 47(1), 181-205

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