The Handmaids Tale Day 1

The Handmaid’s Tale Day 1
Historical Context for The
Handmaid’s Tale
• Events/concerns contemporary with Atwood’s writing
of this novel:
– The Cold War and the threat of nuclear war. Atwood began
composing this novel while visiting a divided Berlin.
– The AIDS epidemic. HIV had just been identified as the
cause of the mysterious disease that had already killed
many people when Atwood started writing.
• Totalitarian Regimes Atwood echoes in The Handmaid’s
– The Republic of Gilead shares many of the oppressive
features of Nazi regime, but it also echoes events that
occurred during the Cultural Revolution in China and in
societies controlled by fundamentalist Islamic regimes.
A Note on the Novel’s Non-Linear
• This novel jumps back and forth in time with very little warning.
The events that occur while Offred is living in the Commander’s
house are occurring in the “present” of the novel.
• At various points in the novel, Offred remembers events from
the past.
– Her preparation to be a handmaid at the “Red Center” (the old
– Conversations with her mother at various points before things
– Her relationship with her husband and their attempts to adapt to,
and then escape, the Republic of Gilead.
• In short, any time Offred is with her mom, her husband, her
daughter, or at the “Red Center,” she’s remembering events
from the past.
How Handmaid deals with the “big
• How does The Republic of Gilead deal with the
following issues:
– Sexuality
– Freedom / free will / self determination
– Knowledge / books / learning
– Religion
• What are some of the “trade offs” this society
has made? (For instance, in Brave New World,
they traded emotion and passion for stability.)
The Character of Offred
• Unlike Brave New World, which had a distant,
3rd person omniscient narrator, The
Handmaid’s Tale has a 1st person narrator, and
so our knowledge about Gilead is limited to
what Offred knows, but because we spend so
much time with her, we are able to know her
as an individual in a way that it is impossible
to know John the Savage, Bernard, or Lenina.
• How does Offred think about her current life?
Her former life?
• How does Offred think about her body?
• What other insights into Offred as a character
can you come up with based on the reading so
The World Before and World Outside
• Unlike Brave New World, this book takes place in
a world that remembers “how things used to be.”
How does that affect how “Offred” and the other
characters deal with the oppressive society in
which they find themselves?
• How does the old “normal” world intrude into
the “new” one? Do those bits of normalcy make
the “new” world seem even more strange?
• How does it affect your reading of the story to
know that Gilead is only one country, and that
there are other countries that are still “like us”?