The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on a totalitarian theocratic regime that takes away power from women and is seen through the eyes of a woman called Offred. The main reason I think that Atwood wrote the handmaid’s tale was to make us think about how the world would be viewed in years to come. Almost seen as some sort of warning of the foundation that humanity would eventually sit upon as well as act. Also how people would convey information, and that racial oppression could lead to a rebellion and the shifts in morals.

Gilead as another dystopian fiction is under the total control of the government. Control is exerted through language, clothing, prohibition of reading any form of free communication


Social Hiérarchies

Women- Wives, Aunts, Handmaids, Econowives, Marthas, Unwomen

Men- Commanders of the Faithful Eyes, Angels, Guardians, Gender Traitors (Male/Female)


Handmaid’s only purpose is to reproduce, they are made breeders. Offred knows she is a natural resource

Inability to retaliate- the women fear the governments punishment are jealous of each other. They fail to unite and overcome the republic

Woman cannot have jobs, own property, vote etc…


Costumes (status and hide individuality) Compare Handmaid’s clothing to nuns or women in Islam

Eyes (the symbol of police ‘The Eyes of god’- are always watching. ‘Under His Eye’ as in George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother is watching

Red (fertility, sin, violence)

Mirrors (a source of identity but are removed for safety)

Flowers (fertility and beauty. The tulip and the handmaid= colour, death and function)

Cambridge Massachusetts (settled by Puritans)

Harvard University (the centre of US knowledge now used for torture)

Scrabble game (control over language and words)

Allusions add layers of meaning to the narrative by evoking the associations that go with the original

Suggest the way the minds works, with sights and events triggering memories of literature, art, pop culture, etc… (Red Riding Hood)

Biblical texts are distorted and corrupted by Gilead government

Show how literate Offred is- emphasising how much she must suffer from being deprived of books

Women are dismissed from their jobs when the regime takes over

Dilema that enjoying sexual and moral freedom may come at a price

Even before Gilead came into being, language had for centuries been dominated by male-oriented choices (for example ‘man’ and ‘he’ being used for people in general)

Atwood shows the power of language and being aware of subtitles of meaning (of which Atwood makes us particularly aware through her use of puns)

During games of scrabble with the commander, Offred tastes words as a sensuous experience (chapter 23)- power of writing

Women in Society:

The former society included rape and pornography- on the other hand, women had some degree of control over their fertility via conception

Aunt Lydia says: “there is more than one kind of freedom… freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it”

Respond now!