How Gilead in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is Based On Strict 16th and 17th Century Puritanical Societies

In a dystopian Ted Ed lesson written by Naomi R. Mercer and animated by Phuong Mai Nguyen, narrator Susan Zimmerman explains why the iconic Margaret Atwood book The Handmaid’s Tale is worth the time to read, despite or because of the hugely popular Hulu series of the same name. Mercer notes that one of the most wonderful things about Atwood’s writing is her self imposed rule to never create a situation that hasn’t already happened. So Atwood used the strict Puritan societies of the 16th and 17th centuries as a basis for the theocracy of Gilead.

The book is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city that during the American colonial period had been ruled by the theocratic Puritans. In many ways, the Republic of Gilead resembles the strict rules that were present in Puritan society: rigid moral codes, modest clothing, banishment of dissenters, and regulation of every aspect of people’s lives and relationships.