These Details About June's Life Before Gilead Will Wreck You
The Handmaid's Tale is a world set in the near future, with a past far too close to our present day for comfort. Before the rise of Gilead, there were all the comforts of our present day: iPhones, Starbucks, trendy restaurants with vegan and gluten-free options. More importantly, our characters all used to have jobs before they were Wives, Handmaids, Marthas, and so forth. This includes Serena Joy, who was a writer and public speaker and Offred, back when she was known as June. What was June's job before Gilead? Ironically, it was as an editor.
Recently, the story of Serena Joy and Offred crossed these streams, when Commander Waterford was injured in the hospital. The two of them became a team, with Serena writing documents and orders to re-right Gilead from fear mongering horrors like Commander Cushing, and June by her side editing away at her text. But this isn't quite what Serena Joy did in the world before. She didn't write government papers or proposals for law changes. She wrote books, right-wing leaning non-fiction, decrying to fall of society.
June didn't edit government papers either. She worked at a publishing firm as a story editor. Ironically, she could have been an editor to someone like Serena Joy.
This is a change from the novel, but not a large one. In the book, Offred's old job is never actually explicitly stated out loud. There's a reference to working in an office before she meets Luke, and when all women are banned from working, but it's never explicitly said what kind of office it was. But the novel also never actually confirms Offred's real name is June either.
Still, there is a suggestion Offred, before Gilead, was someone who loved books and reading and her job was somehow involved with being a writer or editor. This is partly because Margaret Atwood, who wrote the novel made Offred her a bit like herself, as most writers do.
One of the useful parts of defining June's job in the time before Gilead is the show can also use it when referencing other atrocities across the country. One reason June is so affected by her time at The Boston Globe headquarters is not only because of what happened to them but, as an editor who worked in publishing, she identifies strongly with them.
She may have gotten a job at a high powered publishing house, but it was simply where her career led her. She could just as easily landed a job at a newspaper when she started out as a junior copy editor (or a women's online site like Elite Daily) and worked her way up through the ranks to work at Boston's biggest newspaper. As we saw in the scene with her mother, she's very proud of what she does for a living.
If her choices had taken her into newspapers instead of books, who is to say it wouldn't have been her sitting at one of those desks when Gilead's jackbooted thugs burst into the offices, lined up the reporters and editors against the wall and murdered them.
It's an irony June might have worked for the same publishing company who put out Serena Joy's book. But it's an even bigger one it was Serena Joy's book which helped build Gilead. The people who worked with Serena on her book and published it were complicit with the helping create the government which took June's rights away, and made it so she would never be an editor again.
Maybe June's mother was on to something after all when she wasn't impressed with what her daughter did for a living.