*This post contains spoilers, stop reading now if you don’t want to be spoiled*
I recently finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and I am currently halfway through the TV series. I’m enjoying both, but my inner fetishist isn’t happy that they decided to practically remove all the smoking from the book. I mean, I get it. When Margaret Atwood wrote the book, smoking was commonplace, despite the fact that we knew it was unhealthy. The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the future, the TV show puts that future around right now, when smoking is less common, but still exists. But only bad people smoke now in TV and movies, unless we are talking period pieces, so there is no way we could make the main characters smokers.
Smoking is something that is forbidden in the world of the Handmaid’s Tale. But people still smoke. They buy cigarettes on the black market and if you are powerful and well connected enough you might get your hands on some. The Wives are often referenced and still drinking and smoking as they have their handmaiden’s to have children on their behalf as they are barren.
In the show, we see Serena Joy, the wife of the Commander smoke twice so far. Both times have been right before the Ceremony, where she must watch her husband have sex with the Offred, the Handmaiden. She smokes far more than that in the book. In fact, Offred comments frequently on how much she’d like to smoke when she sees Serena Joy smoking. Interestingly, when she gets Serena Joy to give her a cigarette in the book, Offred is excited to smoke the cigarette, but then realizes that with the match she could burn the house down and presumably hides the match (this is alluded to later) and gets rid of the cigarette (not sure about this, but she doesn’t speak of it again).
When she goes out to Jezebel’s with the Commander she smokes and when she continues to have regular sex with Nick she smokes every time she sees him. The more risks she takes, the more she smokes. Smoking in the Handmaid’s Tale is a symbol of freedom, but also of rebellion. It is taboo breaking at its finest. As much as I am enjoying the television adaptation, for me it losing a little something cutting all that smoking out. But I guess it wouldn’t seem like ‘now’ if everyone smoked, now would it?