The Handmaid's Tale is the most disturbing dystopia currently on any media service. One might argue The Walking Dead is more violent, or Game of Thrones, but both of those shows have a nice thick blanket of fantasy between their reality and ours. The Handmaid's Tale, on the other hand, makes sure to regularly remind us the line between the fantasy and our reality is thinner than gauze, by rooting the near past in our present. But with the past so close, it's hard not to wonder: What year does The Handmaid's Tale take place?
The book, which rarely gives concrete details, such as what Offred used to do for a living or even what her original name was, is actually extremely specific about how old Offred is when things happen. She graduates college at 22. She gets an office job and meets Luke. Over the course of the next two years, he divorces his wife and they get married. At age 25, she gives birth to her daughter. At age 30, Gilead rose.
The book was written in 1985, so all the flashbacks describe 1970s-era lifestyles. But the show has updated to the present. Still, it seems the timeline in terms of how old June is at every point stayed the same.
June is styled to be a younger 20-something in the flashbacks with her mother when talking about Luke, her boyfriend. When she tells Moira she's pregnant, they look to be in the mid-20s. Hannah had started school by the time D.C. fell in the terror attacks, but she's only just started. She's kindergarten age when D.C. falls, which makes her somewhere between 4 and 5 years of age, depending on when her birthday falls.
This checks out against the ages in the books. If viewers assume June was 25 when she had Hannah and 30 when America fell, Hannah would be 5 years old, give or take a month. This past week, viewers saw Hannah close-up for the first time. She looks to be still an elementary-aged girl, but one with enough emotional self-control to hold back when her mother first arrives, and one apparently old enough to be trusted not to tell her parents about the meeting. This suggests she's around age 9. If so, Gilead has been in power for four years or so.
But what year is it? In the scene where June and Moira talk about her getting pregnant, June has an iPhone, but it's an older style iPhone, a 5th generation or so. The iPhone 5 was released in 2012, so within this decade. The iPhone 5 phase-out began in 2013, so by the year 2016, having one was pretty rare. This puts Hannah having been born somewhere between 2012-2015.
In the conversation with the handmaids and Serena Joy during the luncheon for Offred, they discuss trendy cafés. Offred makes jokes about Yelp. The laptop June watches the Friends DVD on looks to be a mid-decade model. All signs point to things being exactly as they are today in 2018 when the government fell.
But Hannah's age is our best guide. If we presume June is not the type to upgrade phones, the scene with Moira is ~2014. Hannah would have been born ~2015. She would be five years old in 2020... Right after the evangelical and right-wing crowd might have lost an election by a landslide because they backed a president who spent his entire four years in office openly grifting to make his family richer, and caring little to nothing about the people. (This would also explain why a country like Canada isn't impressed by those in Little America either.)
That means The Handmaid's Tale is most likely taking place in the years 2024-2025. Terrifying.