The concept of Utopia – an ideal society in every way – comes from the 1516 book by Sir Thomas More Of the Best State of a Republic, and of the New Island Utopia. The book depicted a fictitious island in the Atlantic with an apparently perfect and just social and political system and way of life, apparently based on Plato’s Republic. Inevitably, the concept spawned the idea of Dystopia, a term which perfectly describes the Republic of Gilead.
Moira’s ideal is perhaps a reference to the lesbian separatist movement of the 1970s, in which gay women sought to live apart from mainstream, patriarchal society, as far as they possibly could.
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the country and the basis of all legal authority on which the country and its federal government is founded. It was adopted in 1787 and ratified in 1788 in the name of ‘the People’.
It is central to the law of the land and the political culture and framework. With this suspended, the US effectively ceases to exist and the regime holds all power.
There are several instances in relatively recent history of women being deprived of ownership. Until 1882, when the Married Women’s Property Rights Act was passed, British women were forced to rescind all their property (whether acquired through inheritance or other means) to their husbands upon marrying. This was fundamental to the plots of both Wuthering Heights and Wide Sargasso Sea.
Under the Taliban in Afghanistan (1996-2001), there was no question of women having any place in public life, let alone earning and owning.
Moira is quoting from Tennyson’s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. The line ‘Ours is not to reason why, ours but to do and die’ speaks of the removal of all choice over one’s fate.
Offred recalls her early adolescence and her feminist mother’s political activities, which probably refers to the 1980s, when Women Against Pornography was founded. The movement declared porn to be a major cause of violence towards women. This movement also coincided with the rise of the VCR and the wider availability of porn movies for home viewing.
Mademoiselle was a women’s magazine first published in 1933 and famously featuring short stories by Truman Capote, Jane Bowles and Sylvia Plath, who fictionalised her internship there in her novel The Bell Jar. Mademoiselle folded in 2001.
Esquire, ‘the Magazine for Men’, was founded by Arnold Gingrich in 1932. In the 1930s and 1940s it concentrated on men’s fashion and featured fiction by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Its popularity grew during the war years owing to its features on Vargas pin-up girls. In the 1960s it famously brought the concept of ‘New Journalism’ to the world, featuring writing by Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer. Esquire is still published, now in 17 countries.
Ms. is a hugely influential American feminist magazine first published in 1971. It was co-founded by feminist activist Gloria Steinem and Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Between 1972 and 1987 it was published monthly. The magazine featured groundbreaking investigative journalism on subjects including rape, the glass ceiling, domestic violence and the wage gap. It is now published quarterly by the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) was an Anglo-American pulp-fiction crime novelist and screenwriter who pioneered a ‘hardboiled’ style now considered characteristic of the detective novel. His famous anti-hero, Philip Marlowe, made his first appearance in Chandler’s debut novel, The Big Sleep, in 1939. With director Billy Wilder, he co-wrote the script for Double Indemnity (1944) and penned an original screenplay for The Blue Dahlia (Dir: George Marshall) in 1946. Critically panned in his day, he is now held in high esteem as a writer.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was an English Victorian novelist. His novels and short stories feature a spectrum of iconic characters, notably Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Little Dorrit. Hard Times (first published as a weekly serial in Household Words, in 1854) is set in Coketown, a fictitious northern industrial mill town, and is a novel of social criticism, focusing on the unequal economic and social conditions prevailing in then-contemporary Britain.
The Venus de Milo is an ancient Greek statue, carved from marble between around 130 and 100 BC, and discovered in 1820 in the ruins of a city on the Aegean island of Milos. It is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch. The statue’s missing forearms remain a mystery. It is currently on display in the Louvre.
The Coliseum (or Colosseum) is an amphitheatre in Rome, built between 70 and 72 AD under Emperor Vespasian. It was modified circa 81-96. An architectural marvel, it’s the largest of its kind constructed in the Roman Empire, and could accommodate 50,000 persons.