‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: the story behind the ‘nolite you bastardes carborundorum’

The series starring Elisabeth Moss has just started its fifth season. While we wait for it to continue, we review what lies behind the mythical motto.

When June (Elisabeth Moss) is devastated by Serena’s (Yvonne Strahovski) mistreatment and Fred’s (Joseph Fiennes) rapes, she finds the strength she needs in ‘nolite te bastardes carborundorum’, a small message left in the closet by the maid. who lived with the Waterfords before her. It is a text that has become the motto of The Handmaid’s Tale and whose fans have taken as the flag of the feminist movement in recent years.

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After the ‘boom’ of the first season of the adaptation of the novel by Margaret Atwood, the demonstrations for women’s rights were filled with maids who used the plot of the series as a warning: “this is how it begins. It’s enough” . That ‘nolite you bastardes carborundorum’ appeared on banners, t-shirts and tattoos. It became part of popular culture, but do we know what it means?

If we translate it literally, it would be something like “Don’t let the bastards grind you to dust”. Atwood has already revealed that his inspiration for introducing the message in the book comes from a joke he had with his schoolmates. “I’m going to tell you something strange about it,” he confessed to Time, “It was a joke in our Latin classes. So this thing that was a thing of my childhood is now permanently in people’s bodies.”. There is no more behind the reason why the writer chose it. how to pick up Vanity Fair, is a sentence that is not well constructed, “it is as if someone had translated from English to Latin with the Google translator”. Coming from an elementary class, it’s not uncommon for me to have grammatical errors.

It is clear to us, then, that the phrase itself has nothing special, but in the universe of the series it is important, despite having appeared on few occasions. We discovered her in season 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale, when June takes refuge in her bedroom closet after Serena punishes her. She there she lies on the ground, hugging herself, and discovers the phrase. “Someone wrote it. Here, where no one else could see it. Who was it? The one who was here before? It’s a message, for me”.

At that moment it gains strength for the story of the protagonist. She takes refuge in the phrase as a way to flee from Gilead and gives her the strength to continue. ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’ is also the title of episode 4 of the first installment, where she begins to be born the June that we all know, that non-conformist warrior who manages to gather her own army of maids. “There was an Offred before me. She helped me figure out how to get out. She is dead. She is alive. She is me. We are servants. Nolite you bastardes carborundorum, bitches“.

With the season 4 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale regains prominence. This is what is read at the foot of the lifeless body of Fred, the commander who for years raped different maids and helped build Gilead while trampling on the rights of women in the United States. Now the phrase accompanies the group of women who, from Canada, want to change the reality of what was their country.

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