A depiction of Atwood's handmaid, possibly on her way to class at Lawrence Park.
Word of a good ole' book "justification" (read: banning) spread through the news over the weekend after Robert Edwards, the father of a 17-year-old Lawrence Park Collegiate student decided to raise a stink around Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
Atwood started formulating the distopian cautionary tale of a patriarchal society that imprisoned its fertile women in the 1980s, while collecting clippings of oppressive news from around the world. She also worked in some of the imagery of 17th century New England where a relative of hers was sentenced to hanging for witchcraft.
I read it in a Can Lit course at U of T and it was by far the best book on the syllabus, but obviously mine is not a universal opinion.
For Edwards, who challenged The Handmaid's Tale for foul language, anti-Christian speak and mistreatment of women as expressed in this Star piece, the book is downright blasphemous - enough to prevent his son's eyes from scanning it.
Atwood's been pretty open about questioning Christians.
In a New York Times interview from 1990, Atwood said she was inspired by some Bible reading:
''I was reading the Bible - some of us still do that, you know - and I saw the tale of Jacob and his wives and handmaids, a kind of early Baby M. This is not an attack on Christianity, but the fact is Christians have long persecuted other sects and each other.''
Edwards' son, who can't be in class for discussions of Atwood's novel, is now reading Brave New World. It's only ranked #52 on the American Library Association's most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000 - miles away from The Handmaid's Tale at #37.
Coincidentally, at the top of challenged books in the 21st Century is the collected Harry Potter series, you know, for promoting witchcraft.
And depending on your perspective one person's miracle worker is another person's heretic. Plenty of folks could argue the Bible is full of witchcraft, violence and female oppression.
Why not end on a remembered statement of regime control in The Handmaid's Tale:
"There is more than one kind of freedom. . . . freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from."
On the topic of censorship, here are a few fun links:
- In 2007 the CBC put together a series called Censor This!, and much of it is online.
- Freedomtoread.ca, which monitors censorship issues, has a fantastic pdf of challenged books in Canada here [PDF].
- Freedom To Read's burn/ban timeline is here, and offers some perspective on what motivates bans.
- The Guardian has a fun banned book quiz here.