full title The Testaments

author  Margaret Atwood

type of work  Novel

genre  Dystopian fiction; feminist political novel; spy thriller

language  English

time and place written  Canada, late 2010s

date of first publication September 10, 2019

publisher  Nan A. Talese / Doubleday

narrator  There are three narrators: Aunt Lydia, Agnes, and Daisy. Each narrator speaks from her own perspective using the first-person pronoun “I.”

point of view The Testaments unfolds through three points of view, each of which corresponds to one of the novel’s three narrators, who speaks in the first person. The first narrator, Aunt Lydia, provides a written account of her rise to power within Gilead and her involvement in the conspiracy to bring Gilead down. The other two narrators, Agnes and Daisy, each give spoken accounts of their involvement in the same conspiracy. The novel’s final section, which takes place in the year 2197, features a historian discussing the written and spoken testimonies that comprise the rest of the book. This historian, Professor Pieixoto, indicates the possibility that one or more of these testimonies could be false or misleading but concludes that they are probably honest accounts.

tone  Dark yet hopeful. Like its predecessor, The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel emphasizes the anxiety, oppression, and uncertainty that afflicts women under the patriarchal regime of Gilead. Yet the the novel’s multi-pronged, female-led conspiracy to bring the oppressive theocracy down also indicates hope for life after Gilead’s fall.

tense  All three narrators give accounts of their lives in the past tense. Aunt Lydia, who writes her testimony, sometimes reflects in the present tense on the current conditions of her life.

setting (time)  The not-too-distant future, about fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale

setting (place)  Cambridge, Massachusetts; Toronto, Canada

protagonist  Aunt Lydia, Agnes, and Daisy

major conflict  The Republic of Gilead has subjugated all women. Aunt Lydia seeks revenge on all those who established Gilead and believed themselves powerful enough to control her. Agnes, who gradually learns the scandalous circumstances of her own birth and adoption, wants to reform the rotten parts of Gilead. Daisy, who also learns secrets about her birth, wants to help bring an end to the human rights violations rampant in Gilead.

rising action  Each narrator recounts specific events and revelations that drove them to action. Aunt Lydia recounts how Commander Judd imprisoned her then coerced her to become one of the four founding Aunts. Agnes recounts how she learned that she was the daughter of a Handmaid as well as the horrific the death of her father’s Handmaid. These revelations led her to refuse her betrothal to Commander Judd and become an Aunt. Daisy recounts how, after the murder of her caretakers, she discovered her true identity as Baby Nicole, a famous child whose mother successfully smuggled her into Canada. Collaborating with an anonymous source in Gilead, Daisy entered Gilead disguised as a convert.

climax  Aunt Lydia identified herself to Daisy as the anonymous source and revealed top-secret information to Agnes and Becka about the rampant corruption in Gilead. Agnes and Daisy learned they were sisters and embarked on a mission to carry secret information to Canada and bring down Gilead.

falling action  Aunt Lydia prepared for the fall of Gilead, encouraging the murder of Aunt Vidala and obtaining morphine to commit suicide. Becka was discovered drowned in a cistern, where she hid to buy time for Agnes and Becka. Agnes and Becka successfully arrived in Canada and were reunited with their biological mother. Historians convened many years later to discuss the fall of Gilead and the evidence of the main characters’ involvement in its demise.

themes  Power; The Collective Nature of Guilt; Uncertainty

motifs  Embroidery; Escape; Aphorisms

symbols  Agnes’s Dollhouse; Baby Nicole; The Story of the Concubine

foreshadowing  Foreshadowing in The Testaments mainly functions to heighten tension and anticipation. Each of the narrators recounts their story in the past tense, but they each also frequently allude to future events. Such allusions provide the reader with an obscure sense of what’s to come, which adds to the tension of the narrative as it unfolds. As an example, Daisy learns from Garth how to throw a heartstopper punch, which she uses later to put Aunt Vidala in a coma.