There is a certain feeling of admiration and wonder you get when you are standing in the same room as a legend. Mount Union’s Schooler Lecture Series has been bringing this feeling of awe to students for decades. However, this year that feeling was multiplied as literary celebrity, Margaret Atwood, took the stage in Timken Gymnasium.
Margaret Atwood is a swiss army knife when it comes to literary skill. Known for her poetry, novels, essays, and both fiction and non-fiction work she really is a jack of all trades, and master of them all. She is best known as the author of the renowned dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” that recently reentered the spotlight after being picked up by Hulu as their star web television series. The show has earned high level recognition, including several Emmy and Golden Globe awards, making it the highest rated Hulu original show to date.
Atwood’s lecture began with laughter as she joked and told stories about her Methodist childhood. Introducing her own talk, she said that she was tempted to call it “dollops of gloom” however, given her Methodist background she found it more fitting to call it “raise of hope”. After finishing her introduction of jokes, she said, “let’s move on to what you’ve been waiting for, namely the end of the human race.” A fitting introduction for a lecture about two dystopian novels.
“Oryx and Crake” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” were the two stories that Atwood would dissect for the rest of the lecture. She made the conscious decision to discuss “Oryx and Crake” first, saving the newly revitalized story of “The Handmaid’s Tale” as a grand finally.
Atwood wrote “Oryx and Crake” soon after finishing her previous novel, “The Blind Assassin”. She noted this saying that when she first got the idea for “Oryx and Crake” she was reluctant to start the story. However, as time went on the idea for the new novel was so persistent, she forced herself to start writing. Citing this as advice, Atwood said that when an idea is so persistent you must listen to it, no matter the circumstance.
Discussing current problems with humanity, Atwood said, “As story telling mammals, we are fatally addicted to drama.” This transitioned the talk into her discussion of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. She noted that the challenge she took on while writing the story of Offred was trying to convince the United States that what happened in “The Handmaid’s Tale” could happen in the future. She did this by only putting in events that have already happened in real life, a rule that the Hulu adaptation of the story also follows.
The conversation moved more political as Atwood gave some explanation for “The Handmaid’s Tale” all the sudden becoming relevant again. She credited the rise of authoritarian governments for this popularity spike, noting that some of the progress made for women’s rights has been deteriorated as a result. Atwood went on to talk about whether “The Handmaid’s Tale” was a feminist piece. She started listing off the qualities of women in the novel, at the end noting that they were interesting and important. Atwood claimed that if those were qualities that make a feminist piece, then that’s what it was. She then said, “Why did I say interesting and important? Because women are interesting and important in real life.” This line was understandably well received with the audience who erupted with applause.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is too real, too close for comfort. What is supposed to be a fictional dystopia is quickly becoming something of reality. She noted that a new push back is needed to reverse this change. When asked by a student about what gives her hope in a world where there are so many problems Atwood said, “You give me hope.”
So, let’s give her hope Mount Union. Inspire some change in the world.
The Schooler Lecture Series started in 1988 using grant funding from the Schooler Family Foundation. This annual series has given the opportunity for Mount Union men and women, as well as the greater Alliance area, to experience some of the most influential people in American culture. The list of previous Schooler Lecture speakers can be viewed here.