When most people think of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s 1985 classic dystopian novel, they think of the color red. The long red robes and white bonnets worn by women forced into reproductive slavery in the Republic of Gilead have become a symbol of oppression, an eye-catching cue that represents both Atwood’s influence and the global problems she probes in her fiction. So fans took notice when her publisher revealed bright green cover art for The Testaments.
In recent interviews for a cover story on the legendary author, Atwood answered TIME’s questions about the most intriguing aspects of her highly anticipated sequel, the color of the cover included. For the latter, she has a surprisingly simple answer: “I colored it with my crayons and said, ‘I think it would look better green.’” She adds that the color, “spring green,” evokes hope.
Atwood’s long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale hits shelves today. Like the original, The Testaments strikes a balance between propulsive storytelling and dark references to both past and present. But while the new book answers some crucial questions about Gilead, it also leaves many open to interpretation — which is Atwood’s way. The author prefers to let readers come to their own conclusions. “I’m the person who’s against dictatorship, remember that?” she says. “I’m not going to tell the reader what to think.”
Photograph by Mickalene Thomas for TIME
TIME’s cover story on Atwood avoided spoiling details from the The Testaments beyond the broad identities of its three narrators. This article draws on interviews with Atwood to answer a few of the most compelling questions about the book and analyze the meaning of those narrative choices. Do not read further if you have not yet read The Testaments and do not want to learn more details about its contents.
Here are Atwood’s answers to nine burning questions about The Testaments.
Does Offred survive?
Offred’s story in The Handmaid’s Tale ends with her stepping into a van that will take her “into the darkness, within; or else the light.” In an interview with TIME, Atwood says, “We will learn enough to know that it was more like the light than the darkness.”
So in a word, yes. Offred is alive in The Testaments. But this is Atwood we’re talking about, and nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
Why is the book called The Testaments?
Atwood has a three-pronged answer to this question, drawing on the structure of the novel — which is told by three narrators — and the religious aspects of Gilead. “It has several different meanings: last will and testament, Old and New Testaments. And what does a witness give? A testimony, but also a testament,” she says. “So it’s those three: the witness, the will and ‘I’m telling you the truth.’”
Who are the narrators of The Testaments?
When she announced The Testaments, Atwood teased that the new novel is narrated by three women, but she revealed nothing of their identities. Fans who hoped Offred, the narrator of The Handmaid’s Tale, might be one of the three will be disappointed. The new book does not drop back into the mind of the woman who first described to us all the horrific customs of Gilead. One of the reasons Atwood waited as long as she did to write a sequel, she tells TIME, was because she felt re-creating Offred’s voice would be impossible. “She had said her piece, quite thoroughly,” Atwood says. But once she realized she could access Gilead through different characters, she knew she could write a follow-up.
So who are these women? One of the three narrators is someone readers already know: Aunt Lydia, a notorious villain in the original book. She’s si