A sense of agency and the Handmaid’s Tale

I’ve been binging on the Handmaid’s Tale for a few weeks now. While the show initially was extremely painful to watch, I soon got used to the Gilead world. I’m currently in S3 E3 and my brain connected a few dots around sense of agency. Spoilers ahead and you may not fully grasp it if you haven’t watched the show. Read along only if you’re okay with it.

The Handmaid's Tale' Finale Recap: Season 1, Episode 10 — [Spoiler] Is  Alive | TVLine
June in S1

I recall her finding comfort in a quote written down by a previous handmaid: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down). The same quote she leaves behind on the wall, in large lettering this time, to let them know that they cannot grind her down.

However, what shook me the most was June’s decision in S2 ending to stay in Gilead. Despite having the perfect opportunity to escape, she didn’t. Thereafter, the way she went about Gilead was different. It was no longer submission because of fear. It was not naive rebellion either. She chose to be offred, while being June.

In a scene in S2, the handmaids go about in the grocery store whispering their names to one another – “I’m Brianna”, “I’m June”, “I’m Alma”. This to me is the first acknowledgement of a collective sense of agency – of everyone acknowledging that they are not OfSOMEONE’S, but people with their own identities

'The Handmaid's Tale' Boss on Season 3: 'June's Winning More' - Variety
June in S3. You see the difference?
Wear the dress. Pull the strings. - MagicalQuote | Handmaid's tale,  Handmaid's tale tv, Tv series quotes

In S3, June tells Serena – “Wear the dress. Pull the strings”. Serena, who at that point is tortured and troubled by the very world she helped create, who feels helpless and believes the only way out is to comply, finds inspiration in June’s words.

It hit me then that this is all about a sense of agency. The story is no longer about someone forcing them to be something they do not want to be. Instead, they have now chosen to play these roles willingly and they are extending the scope of their roles, pulling the strings wherever they can, in an act of subversion.

The same Gilead which once was a nightmare to them, become a bearable playground for courage. We see June being more resilient, fierce and strong, as she now has purpose to endure this suffering THAT SHE HAS CHOSEN.

It surprises me – how a place like Gilead could become a choice for anyone. But I guess that is what hope does to people. In June’s case and in her words – “As long as I’m here, I have hope that I can see my daughter again”.

This whole line of thinking reinforces in my mind – how important agency really is. If a sense of agency can help you survive and endure a place like Gilead, it most certainly can help us endure our own difficult lives. We just have to find our narrative and our reason to endure.