Jayne Ingram, Thea Enns, Joy Simms, Shelby Kurt, Eugene Nam
•Born Nov. 13th 1939, (70 years old) in Ottawa and moved to Toronto at age six
•Graduated from high school in 1959 & Bachelors degree from Victoria College in
University of Toronto and her masters degree from Radcliffe College
•Went on to study Victorian literature at Harvard university in 1962-63 & was getting her
PhD but she never fully completed it
•Favourite writer and role model was Edgar Allan Poe
•Written more than 35 books (novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, social history
and books for children)
•Some of her books have been published in 22 different languages
•Atwood uses her words & voices of her characters to sell her values and her stands on
social issues and her views on the inequalities in the world
•Has given many lectures at University of British Colombia, Sir George Williams
University of Montreal, University of Alberta, 1969-70 & was an assistant professor at
York university for English
•Has received more than 55 awards
•Civil rights has always interested Atwood and she was active in Amnesty International
(an organization that helps free prisoners throughout the world)
•President of the Writers' Union of Canada from May 1981 to May 1982, and was
President of International P.E.N., Canadian Centre (English Speaking) from 1984-1986
•She and Graeme Gibson are the Joint Honourary Presidents of the Rare Bird Society
within BirdLife International. Ms. Atwood is also a current Vice-President of PEN
•Voices strong feminist themes through her writing
•In several of her books the female protagonist is the representation of “every woman”
who is victimized and minimized by gender and politics
•The Handmaid’s Tale novel portrays the strength and proactive nature of women as
they struggle with inequality
•The Handmaid’s Tale was eventually made into a motion picture
Diction is an indicator of where power and control lie.
• Characters are given titles that indicate their status. Names are taken from handmaids
while other characters are addressed by titles that demand respect. Offred is of lower
• Class is a major theme of the novel.
“Guns were for the guards, specially picked from the Angels” (pg. 4)
“Don’t call me Ma’am, she said irritably. You’re not a Martha” (pg. 17)
Atwood's made up words have evident meanings that define the changes in society. Language
has evident differences between our world and Gilead.
"'Hello,' he says. It's the old form of greeting. I haven't heard it for a long time, for years. Under
the circumstances it seems out of place, comical even, a flip backward in time, a stunt."-Offred
with the Commander (pg. 159)
"I almost gasp: he's said a forbidden word. Sterile." -Offred, of the doctor (pg. 68)
Offred often narrates meanings behind words and phrases.
Government power is one of the large themes of the novel (along with feminism). Problems of
today's society (government being too far left) are exaggerated to emphasize a point.
Ex. The Commander, a symbol of governmental power, abuses his authority.
High Powers control citizens using force and fear: The wall, weapons, spies everywhere,
meetings, showcases etc.
“But I could see out into the corridor, and there were two men standing there, in uniforms, with
machine guns” (204)
"Like them, even, to plant the passport forgers themselves, a net for the unwary. The Eyes of
God run over all the earth." -Offred about getting caught at the boarder (pg. 223)
"Last week [the Guardians] shot a woman, right about here. She was a Martha. She was
fumbling with her robe, for her pass, and they thought she was hunting for a bomb." (pg 23)
"Beside the main gateway there are six bodies hanging, by the necks, their heads tied in front of
them, their heads in white bags tipped sideways onto their shoulders." -The Wall (pg. 36)
The second main theme of the novel. Atwood wrote the novel to take a stance by exaggerating
unjust treatment to women.
"Mother, I think, wherever you may be. Can you hear me? You wanted a women's culture. Well,
now there is one. It isn't what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies"-Offred
after birth (pg. 147)
“Women can’t hold property any more, she said. It’s a new law. Turned on the TV today?” (pg. 206)
“They’ve frozen them, she said. Mine too. The collective’s too. Any account with an F on it instead
of an M” (pg. 206)
Women are for babies, and sex; nothing more.
• A Jezebel is a term for an infertile women who worked at "the club." Jezebel was originally
a name from the bible of a Queen who turned people away from God to Idols, and
promoted sexuality.
Passage on page 157
The colour red, blinders, Eyes, the Wall... are all symbolisms of control and power of the
totalitarian government. The symbolism emphasizes fear and helplessness in the citizens:
another large theme of the novel.
“I look up quickly: it’s a black van, with the white-winged eye on the side. It doesn’t have the
siren on, but the other cars avoid it anyways.” (195)
“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” (p. 103) – do not let the bastards grind you down.
“We’re supposed to look: this is what (the bodies) are there for, hanging on the Wall.
Sometimes they’ll will be there for days, until there’s a new batch, so as many people as
possible will have a chance to see them” (pg. 36).
Atwood's themes tend to be exaggerations of problems we have in our society: feminism,
government control, class struggle.
• She parallels the worlds by referring to structures in Gilead from our world and by having
the flashbacks throughout that indicate what happened to the old world that caused it to be
morphed from a democracy with it's many "problems" to a seamlessly "perfect" totalitarian
"Newspapers were censored and some were closed down, for security reasons they said"
Passage on page 167 paralleling the Holocaust
A device by which one element (idea or object) is thrown into opposition
with another for the sake of emphasis or clarity.
This passage shows the complete difference of the purpose of Offred’s
body from when she was a free independent woman, to being a
Handmaid with the mission of reproducing. Contrast is always a good
device to include it writing, as it puts differences in a comparable
“I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of
transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will… Now
the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a
central object, the shape of a pear…”
(pg 91)
A statement or action that indicates what is to come.
The fact that the close relationship she had with Luke ended terribly
foreshadows the same with the Commander.
“There’s nobody here I can love, all the people I love are dead or
elsewhere.”(pg 127)
In the time before the reform of the U.S., Offred had a daughter with Luke.
In one of her flashbacks, she remembers when the girl was almost stolen
by a stranger in a supermarket. This foreshadows the kidnapping of her
daughter by the government of Gilead when they attempted to escape over
the border.
“I turned around and she was disappearing down the aisle, in the arms of a
woman I’d never seen before… I thought it was an isolated incident, at the
time.” (pg 79)
Foreshadowing keeps the reader interested, and influences them to try
and make connections.
A rhetorical device that takes the reader out of the standard sequence of
time into the past.
This happens very often in the novel, as Offred’s thoughts are slightly
jumbled, or lead into others quite abruptly. In this quote, the change in time
actually happens mid-sentence, where she was originally waiting in Serena
Joy’s sitting room. These flashbacks offer a lot of information on the events
that lead to Offred’s situation and painful life in Gilead.
“We wait, the clock in the hall ticks, Serena lights another cigarette, I get
into the car. It’s a Saturday morning in September, we still have a car.”
To place two things side by side for comparison or emphasis.
During one of Offred’s walks into town, she and Ofglen are stopped
by a tourist group of Japanese women. Japan, having not been
converted to a Gilead-type society, still allowed women to dress and
act freely. The difference in the dress and mannerisms of these
women compared to the Handmaids is shocking, and is a reminder
for the reader.
“They look around, bright-eyed, cocking their heads to the side like
robins, their very cheerfulness aggressive…Their heads are
uncovered and their hair is too exposed, in all its darkness and
sexuality.”(pg 35)
A feeling of tenderness, pity or sympathetic sorrow from an audience.
This quote is taken from when Offred and the other Handmaids in her
area are leaving a birth at another household and face the fact that
they are not yet successful in their duties. It is important that this
device is used, as it enables the reader to understand the emotions
and then the motives of the characters more.
“We ache. Each of us holds in her lap a phantom, a ghost baby. What
confronts us, now the excitement’s over, is our own failure.”(pg 159)
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Canada: O.W. Toad Ltd, 1985.
Handmaid’s Tale cover art:
Two Handmaids:
Black van:
Pregnant lady:
Brick Wall:
Cartoon eye:
Mother and daughter:
The Handmaid’s Tale video: