Hulu’s new series “The Handmaid’s Tale” has people buzzing since the first episodes were released on April 26. So far, there have been changes from book to screen, but they enhance the story without changing many major details. This TV show encompasses the essence of the book with the traits of cinematic drama.
The biggest change from page to screen was learning Offred’s real name. In the book, Atwood left Offred’s real name a mystery—one of the many ambiguous plot points in the story. At the end of the pilot episode, Offred reveals her former name to be June in an inner monologue, answering one of the biggest questions readers had after closing the book. For years, there had been speculation that her name was June because of one of her descriptions in the Red Center: “We exchanged names from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.” All but one of these names show up as characters in the story, leaving the reader to believe that June is the main character.
Another big change is the point of view. Going from a first-person novel to a mostly third-person TV show has its advantages and disadvantages. A plus is that the viewer is now able to see what others are doing when Offred is not around. Specifically, in the second episode after Janine has her baby, we can see the pain she is feeling by connecting with a baby who is going to be taken away from her in a couple of days. We are able to see how crippling the society is to those other than Offred, which is very powerful.
Another advantage is that the viewer is able to see what happens to Offred’s friend, Ofglen, after she disappears. In the book, Ofglen is suddenly replaced and the only answer Offred receives is a rumor that a van had come for her and she killed herself before the Eyes got to her. In the TV show, the viewer gets a completely different story about what happens to her because of the third-person perspective. We are enlightened about Ofglen’s fate because the story is not limited to what Offred sees.
The disadvantage is that the viewer cannot always hear Offred’s inner monologue, specifically when the Commander asks her to come to his room. In the book, there was constant anxiety building up, making the reader more and more afraid of what was going to happen to Offred. The surprise of the Commander asking Offred to play Scrabble was a lot more satisfying because there was that inner monologue. In the TV show, it seems to be forgotten about throughout the day’s activities, making it less satisfying for the viewer because there was no constant worrying.
Other plot points are slightly altered for cinematic effect and to show the reader the severity of the situation. The flashback when a woman steals Offred’s baby is an example. In the book, Offred is in the store with her year-old baby girl, someone tries to steal her and fails. In the show, a woman steals the baby while they are still in the hospital and kills someone in the process, which is much more dramatic. This change was to compensate for the lack of descriptions coming from Offred. If the scene from the book had been put into the TV show, it would not have shown the severity of the situation as much and it would not have accurately depicted the lengths people were willing to go to steal babies.
Overall, the series is worth watching, especially if you are a fan of the book.
Collegian reporter Leta McWilliams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LetaMcWilliams.