Six crucial differences between The Handmaid's Tale book and TV show.

When Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale it was 1984 and she was using a typewriter.

So much has changed since then – we’ve become a more diverse and tech savvy society – and many of those changes are reflected in the new TV series.

The Gilead we’re all getting to know, and erm, fear – is a little different to the one Atwood created over 30 years ago.

Here are the biggest changes in the TV series:

The TV series is set in the near-future (like 2018).

What makes the TV series so chilling is that feeling of ‘this could happen to me’. In the book, the setting isn’t really established, Offred makes references to the 1970s and the 1980s, but as a reader you’re never quite sure what year it is.

Listen to Laura Brodnik, Clare Stephens and Katy Hall dissect everything about The Handmaid’s Tale in a special episode of The Binge. Post continues after audio.

The TV series, however, is set in the ‘near future’. Before the totalitarianism regime takes over – Moira and June are living normal 2017-ish lives that are pretty similar to our own. That’s what makes it so freakin’ bone-chilling.

Offred is more confident.

Offred’s character is a lot more headstrong in the TV series. In the book, when the government outlaws jobs for women, Offred doesn’t join the protests on the streets like she does in the TV series. She keeps to herself and focuses on surviving.

And her internal monologue is different. The series’ showrunner Bruce Miller told TIME he wanted to create a striking contrast between Offred’s inner monologue and her outer presentation. While internally she’s indignant and feisty, externally she remains obedient.

We also see a lot more of Offred’s backstory in the TV series.


Gilead is much more diverse.

In the book, the Gileads separate people of different races – you know, like the Nazis. Black people are referred to as ‘the children of Ham’ after one of Noah’s sons who’s often depicted as black. The ‘children of Ham’ are removed from society and resettled in the ‘National Homelands’. Although it’s never explicitly stated, it’s implied that they’re either killed or enslaved once they reach the National Homelands.

The TV series, however, does not seem to discriminate on race. Offred’s husband, her daughter and her best friend Moira, are all people of colour.

Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred in the series, told TIME they made these changes so the story was more “relatable”.

“We wanted the show to be very relatable. We wanted people to see themselves in it. If you’re going to do that, you have to show all types of people. You have to reflect current society,” she said.

Everyone is younger.

In the book, Fred and Serena Joy are a lot older. Fred is described as an older gentleman with silver hair and a moustache who looks “like a Midwestern bank president”. While Serena Joy is described as having a face that’s too big and a nose that’s too small. She also often wears a veil.

handmaid's tale book differences
"Praise be". Image via SBS On Demand.

In the TV series, Fred and Serena Joy are both young and attractive.

Ofglen's storyline is very different.

We see a lot more of Ofglen in the TV series. In the book she's described as being "a little plump with brown hair", then she suddenly disappears one day and is replaced with a new 'Ofglen'.

In the TV series she's played by Alexis Bledel, and she tells Offred she had a wife and a daughter before Gilead. She's also involved in the rebellion. In the second episode she's arrested for being a 'gender traitor' and she's sentenced to redemption - which basically means female genital mutilation.

Offred reveals her real name.

In the book, Offred never reveals her real name. At one point she does list a bunch of names that used to belong to the handmaid's "Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June". Later in the book Alma, Janine, Dolores and Moira are revealed as characters, so the reader does assume June is her name.  But she never explicitly states her name.

At the end of the first episode Offred reveals, through her inner monologue, that her real name is indeed June.

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Have you noticed any other differences? Share them in the comments below.