I very much enjoyed reading this essay by Alissa Wilkinson about two fictional places called Gilead: the eponymous town in Marilynne Robinson’s book Gilead and the nation run by a pseudo-Christian cult in Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale. The latter, recently adapted into a TV series for Hulu, seems to have garnered a particular interest among those who fear that the Republican party will lead America into some kind of theocracy. (Given that they haven’t managed to defund Planned Parenthood despite nearly two years of holding Congress and the Presidency, I wouldn’t be too concerned about this.) Wilkinson artfully describes the two Gileads and what we might learn from each one, particularly Robinson’s sleepy little town:
And though Gilead, Iowa, is the setting for novels that are fundamentally about grace, it’s not really Puritan enough either, by Robinson’s definition. It is haunted by ghosts, even if its more pious residents wouldn’t put it that way. Its ghosts are American ghosts: praising liberty, but not all of it; fearing the unknown, the stranger, the different, the sojourner, preferring them to keep their voices to themselves. It is a town of hopes deferred and incomplete joy, stories quieted, things left unsaid.
Much discussion around The Handmaid’s Tale has centered on how much Trump’s America resembles Atwood’s Gilead. Perhaps too little of the discussion has also asked how much Trump’s America is like Robinson’s Gilead.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org