Hulu’s television series “The Handmaid’s Tale” has recently brought feminist speculative fiction back to the forefront of culture. Margaret Atwood continues to inspire many readers with the original novel, including up and coming author Naomi Alderman.
In 2016, Alderman released her fourth novel, “The Power,” which was dedicated to and influenced by Atwood. The novel has had tremendous literary success, winning the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2017. Alderman has also signed a contract permitting the novel, which has been labeled as an essential modern feminist work, to be a TV series, following in the footsteps of Atwood.
The Power is framed as a pop history book written hundreds of years in the future that looks back on a present-day world where women and girls have developed the ability to send electricity through their hands. As these women learn to control their new ability, revolts occur across the world, especially in third world countries. As the women grow more and more powerful, they become the dominant gender, essentially reversing thousands of years of traditional gender roles.
Throughout the novel, Alderman follows the narratives of four unique characters. First is Ally, who after killing her cruel foster father with her newfound father, becomes “Mother Eve,” the leader of a feminist religion that honors a female God. Next is Roxy, the powerful and feisty daughter of a British mob boss. After coming to Ally’s convent, Roxy further strengthens her power and becomes one of the strongest warriors in the new world order.
There is also Margot, a high-climbing politician who uses her power for self-advancement and advocates for the training of young girls to become soldiers with powerful control over their abilities. Finally is Tunde, a male journalist who follows and reports on the gender revolutions across the world. Each character offers a unique perspective as an already problematic world erupts in chaos.
The unyielding power of the women in this world gives them a new strength over men, and they take this strength to the extremes. In addition to fighting off their oppressors, they also seek out more vulnerable populations, often acting out violently. In one particularly devastating scene, a group of women violently assault and rape a man.
Rather than playing into the assumption that a women-ruled world would inevitably be more peaceful, Alderman reminds readers that any world with a dominant gender can only result in disaster. Women fail to fix the oppressive structures that once formerly constrained them; instead, they turn these structures onto the men.
We see women apply a variety of techniques to advance themselves in this new world: Ally manipulates her followers into believing that she is someone she is not; Margot expands her political prowess; Roxy draws upon the strength of her own power as well as the status of her father; and Tatiana Moskalev, the former First Lady of Moldova, kills her husband and takes over his role as President.
All of these women, however, depend on the use of their power to successfully implement these techniques. In doing this, Alderman examines the question of what women have to do in order to be seen as equal (or superior) to men. Is physical dominance the only way for women to prove their worth?
Despite her relatively simple language, which in some ways seems more at home in a young adult novel, the ideas that Alderman brings to the table give her novel a much more mature tone, demonstrating the broad impact of The Power. By exploring and twisting popular feminist theories, Alderman forces us to reconsider the harmful influence that gender roles have on our society, proving herself to be the next generation’s Margaret Atwood.