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The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale

Overview
The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel, a work of science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 or speculative fiction
Speculative fiction
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as...

, written by Canadian author
Canadian literature
Canadian literature is literature originating from Canada. Collectively it is often called CanLit. Some criticism of Canadian literature has focused on nationalistic and regional themes, although this is only a small portion of Canadian Literary criticism...

 Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood, is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is among the most-honoured authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C...

 and first published by McClelland and Stewart
McClelland and Stewart
McClelland & Stewart Limited is a Canadian publishing company. It is partially owned by Random House of Canada, now a subsidiary of Bertelsmann....

 in 1985. Set in the near future, in a totalitarian theocracy
Theocracy
Theocracy is a form of organization in which the official policy is to be governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, or simply pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religious sect or religion....

 which has overthrown the United States government, The Handmaid's Tale explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency. The novel's title was inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

's The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. The tales are told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at...

, which is a series of connected stories ("The Merchant's Tale", "The Parson's Tale", etc.).

The Handmaid's Tale won the 1985 Governor General's Award
Governor General's Award
The Governor General's Awards are a collection of awards presented by the Governor General of Canada, marking distinction in a number of academic, artistic and social fields. The first was conceived in 1937 by Lord Tweedsmuir, a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction who created the Governor...

 and the first Arthur C. Clarke Award
Arthur C. Clarke Award
The Arthur C. Clarke Award is a British award given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The award was established with a grant from Arthur C. Clarke and the first prize was awarded in 1987...

 in 1987, and it was nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award
Nebula Award
The Nebula Award is given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America , for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the previous year...

, the 1986 Booker Prize
Man Booker Prize
The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. The winner of the Man Booker Prize is generally assured of international renown and...

, and the 1987 Prometheus Award
Prometheus Award
The Prometheus Award is an award for libertarian science fiction novels given annually by the Libertarian Futurist Society, which also publishes a quarterly journal Prometheus. L. Neil Smith established the award in 1979, but it was not awarded regularly until the newly founded Libertarian Futurist...

.
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Encyclopedia
The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel, a work of science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 or speculative fiction
Speculative fiction
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as...

, written by Canadian author
Canadian literature
Canadian literature is literature originating from Canada. Collectively it is often called CanLit. Some criticism of Canadian literature has focused on nationalistic and regional themes, although this is only a small portion of Canadian Literary criticism...

 Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood, is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is among the most-honoured authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C...

 and first published by McClelland and Stewart
McClelland and Stewart
McClelland & Stewart Limited is a Canadian publishing company. It is partially owned by Random House of Canada, now a subsidiary of Bertelsmann....

 in 1985. Set in the near future, in a totalitarian theocracy
Theocracy
Theocracy is a form of organization in which the official policy is to be governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, or simply pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religious sect or religion....

 which has overthrown the United States government, The Handmaid's Tale explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency. The novel's title was inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

's The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. The tales are told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at...

, which is a series of connected stories ("The Merchant's Tale", "The Parson's Tale", etc.).

The Handmaid's Tale won the 1985 Governor General's Award
Governor General's Award
The Governor General's Awards are a collection of awards presented by the Governor General of Canada, marking distinction in a number of academic, artistic and social fields. The first was conceived in 1937 by Lord Tweedsmuir, a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction who created the Governor...

 and the first Arthur C. Clarke Award
Arthur C. Clarke Award
The Arthur C. Clarke Award is a British award given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The award was established with a grant from Arthur C. Clarke and the first prize was awarded in 1987...

 in 1987, and it was nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award
Nebula Award
The Nebula Award is given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America , for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the previous year...

, the 1986 Booker Prize
Man Booker Prize
The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. The winner of the Man Booker Prize is generally assured of international renown and...

, and the 1987 Prometheus Award
Prometheus Award
The Prometheus Award is an award for libertarian science fiction novels given annually by the Libertarian Futurist Society, which also publishes a quarterly journal Prometheus. L. Neil Smith established the award in 1979, but it was not awarded regularly until the newly founded Libertarian Futurist...

. It has been adapted for the cinema, radio, opera, and stage.

Plot summary


The Handmaid's Tale is set in the near future in the Republic of Gilead, a country formed within the borders of what was formerly the United States of America. It was founded by a racist, male chauvinist, nativist
Nativism (politics)
Nativism favors the interests of certain established inhabitants of an area or nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants. It may also include the re-establishment or perpetuation of such individuals or their culture....

, theocratic-organized military coup as an ideologically driven response to the pervasive ecological, physical and social degradation of the country.

Beginning with a staged terrorist
Terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

 attack (blamed on Islamic extremist terrorists) that kills the President and most of Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

, a movement calling itself the "Sons of Jacob" launched a revolution and suspended the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 under the pretext of restoring order.

Taking advantage of electronic banking, they were quickly able to freeze the assets of all women and other "undesirables" in the country, stripping them of their rights. The new theocratic military dictatorship
Military dictatorship
A military dictatorship is a form of government where in the political power resides with the military. It is similar but not identical to a stratocracy, a state ruled directly by the military....

, styled "The Republic of Gilead", moved quickly to consolidate its power and reorganize society along a new militarized, hierarchical, compulsorily Christian regime of Old Testament-inspired social and religious orthodoxy among its newly created social classes.

The story is presented from the point of view of a woman called Offred (a patronymic
Patronymic
A patronym, or patronymic, is a component of a personal name based on the name of one's father, grandfather or an even earlier male ancestor. A component of a name based on the name of one's mother or a female ancestor is a matronymic. Each is a means of conveying lineage.In many areas patronyms...

 name that means "Of Fred", referring to the man she serves). The character is one of a class of individuals kept as concubines ("handmaids") for reproductive purposes by the ruling class in an era of declining births. The book is told in the first person by Offred, who describes her life during her third assignment as a handmaid, in this case to Fred (referred to as "The Commander"). Interspersed in flashbacks are portions her life from the beginnings of the revolution, when she finds she has lost all autonomy to her husband, through her failed attempt to escape with her husband and daughter to Canada, to her indoctrination into life as a handmaid. Through her eyes, the structure of Gilead's society is described, including the several different categories of women and their circumscribed lives in the new theocracy.

The Commander, a high ranking official in Gilead, participates in a sexual ritual (known as "The Ceremony") once a month with his wife and Offred (who lies upon the wife) in an attempt to conceive. During Offred's assignment at the Commander's house, he begins an illegal and ambiguous relationship with her, exposing Offred to many hidden or contraband aspects of the new society, such as fashion magazines and cosmetics
Cosmetics
Cosmetics are substances used to enhance the appearance or odor of the human body. Cosmetics include skin-care creams, lotions, powders, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail and toe nail polish, eye and facial makeup, towelettes, permanent waves, colored contact lenses, hair colors, hair sprays and...

. He takes her to a secret brothel
Brothel
Brothels are business establishments where patrons can engage in sexual activities with prostitutes. Brothels are known under a variety of names, including bordello, cathouse, knocking shop, whorehouse, strumpet house, sporting house, house of ill repute, house of prostitution, and bawdy house...

 run by the government, and he furtively meets with her in his study, where he allows her the contraband activity of reading. The Commander's wife strikes a deal with Offred—she arranges for Offred to secretly have sex with her driver Nick in an effort to get her pregnant. The Commander's wife believes the Commander to be sterile, a subversive belief as official Gilead policy is that only women can be sterile. In exchange for Offred's cooperation, the Commander's wife gives her news of her daughter, whom Offred has not seen since she and her family were captured trying to escape Gilead.

After Offred's initial meeting with Nick, they begin to rendezvous more frequently. Offred finds herself enjoying sex with Nick despite her indoctrination, and even goes as far as to divulge potentially dangerous information about her past. Through another handmaid, Ofglen, Offred learns of the Mayday resistance, an underground network with the intent of overthrowing Gilead. Shortly after Ofglen's disappearance (later discovered to be a suicide), the Commander's wife finds evidence of the relationship between Offred and the Commander, and Offred contemplates suicide. As the novel concludes, she is being taken away by men from the secret police
Secret police
Secret police are a police agency which operates in secrecy and beyond the law to protect the political power of an individual dictator or an authoritarian political regime....

, known as the Eyes, in a large black van under orders from Nick. Before she is taken away, Nick tells her that the men are part of the Mayday resistance and that Offred must trust him. Offred does not know if Nick is truly a member of the Mayday resistance or if he is a government agent posing as one, and she does not know if going with the men will result in her escape or her capture. She enters the van with a final thought on her uncertain future.

The novel concludes with a metafictional epilogue
Epilogue
An epilogue, epilog or afterword is a piece of writing at the end of a work of literature or drama, usually used to bring closure to the work...

 that explains that the events of the novel occurred shortly after the beginning of what is called "the Gilead Period." The epilogue itself is a "transcription of a Symposium on Gileadean Studies written some time in the distant future (2195)", and according to the symposium's "keynote speaker" Professor Pieixoto, he and "a colleague", Professor Knotly Wade, discovered Offred's narrative recorded onto thirty cassette tapes. They created a "probable order" for these tapes and transcribed them, calling them collectively "the handmaid's tale". The epilogue implies that, following the collapse of the theocratic Republic of Gilead, a more equal society re-emerged with a return of the legal rights of women and also Native Americans. It's further suggested that freedom of religion was also re-established.

Characters

  • Offred: The protagonist
    Protagonist
    A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

     was separated from her husband and daughter after the formation of the Republic of Gilead and is part of the first generation of Gilead's women: those who remember pre-Gilead times. Having proven fertile, she is considered an important commodity and has been placed as a handmaid in the home of the Commander Fred and his wife Serena Joy to bear a child for them (Serena Joy is said to be infertile).
Offred is a patronymic
Patronymic
A patronym, or patronymic, is a component of a personal name based on the name of one's father, grandfather or an even earlier male ancestor. A component of a name based on the name of one's mother or a female ancestor is a matronymic. Each is a means of conveying lineage.In many areas patronyms...

 slave name
Slave name
A slave name is a name given to a person who is or has been enslaved or a name inherited from enslaved ancestors. Modern use of the term applies mostly to African-Americans and West Indians who are descended from slaves, and are thereby capable of having a "slave name".-Ancient Rome:In Rome, slaves...

 which describes her function: she is "of Fred", i.e. she belongs to her Commander, Fred, as a concubine. It is implied that her birth name is June. The women in training to be handmaids whisper names across their beds at night. The names are "Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June", and all are later accounted for except June. In addition, one of the Aunts tells Offred to stop "mooning and June-ing". Miner suggests that "June" is a pseudonym
Pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

, as "Mayday" is the name of the Gilead resistance, and it could be an attempt on the protagonist's part to invent a name; the Nunavit conference that takes place in the epilogue is held in June.
The only physical description of Offred presented in the novel is one she gives of herself. Offred describes herself as: "I am thirty-three years old. I have brown hair. I stand five [feet] seven [inches] without shoes". Notably, this description appears about halfway through the novel, so for a significant portion of the book the reader remains ignorant of her physical appearance.
  • The Commander: His background is never officially described, as Offred hasn't a chance to learn of his past, although he does volunteer, in one of their later meetings, that he is a sort of scientist and was previously involved in something like market research
    Market research
    Market research is any organized effort to gather information about markets or customers. It is a very important component of business strategy...

    . Later, it is hypothesized, but not confirmed, that he might have been one of the architects of the Republic and its laws. His name is presumably "Fred".
As the story progresses, Offred learns that the Commander is dissatisfied with his marriage and his role in society, but is unwilling to bear the risks of abdicating either. He engages in forbidden intellectual pursuits with her, such as playing Scrabble
Scrabble
Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a game board marked with a 15-by-15 grid. The words are formed across and down in crossword fashion and must appear in a standard dictionary. Official reference works provide a list...

, and introduces her to a secret club that serves as a brothel for high-ranking officers. Offred learns that the Commander carried on a similar relationship with his previous handmaid and that she killed herself when his wife found out. In the epilogue of the book, two identities are suggested to be the Commander, both instrumental in the establishment of Gilead. However, it is strongly suggested that the Commander was a man named Frederick R. Waterford who met his end in a socio-political purge shortly after Offred was taken away.
  • Serena Joy: A former televangelist, she is now a Wife in the fundamentalist theocracy she helped to create. All power and public recognition have been taken away from her by the state, as for all women in Gilead, and her past as a television personality is covered up as much as possible by the regime. Assumed to be sterile (although the possibility is raised that it is the Commander who is actually sterile, as Gileadean theocratic laws dictate that sterility is solely the fault of women), she bears and resents the indignity of having a Handmaid and being present every month during a fertility ritual wherein the Commander has intercourse with the Handmaid while both are lying atop the Wife. She strikes a deal with Offred to arrange for her to have sex with Nick in order to become pregnant. According to Professor Pieixota, in the epilogue, Serena Joy or Pam are pseudonyms for the character's actual name. It is implied that she was actually named Thelma.
  • Ofglen: A neighbour of Offred's and a fellow Handmaid, she is partnered with Offred to do the shopping for the household each day, so that the Handmaids are never alone and can police each others' behaviour. Ofglen is a member of the Mayday resistance, a secret organization that is rebelling against Gilead. In contrast to the relatively passive Offred, Ofglen is very daring, even leaping forward to knock out a spy for the Mayday resistance who is to be tortured and killed in a "particicution" (a portmanteau of "participation" and "execution") in order to save him the pain of a violent death. Ofglen later commits suicide before the government comes to take her away for being part of the resistance.
She is later replaced as Offred's shopping partner by another handmaid, also named Ofglen, who does not seem to share the original Ofglen's feelings about Gilead, and warns Offred against retaining any similar sentiments.
  • Nick: The Commander's chauffeur
    Chauffeur
    A chauffeur is a person employed to drive a passenger motor vehicle, especially a luxury vehicle such as a large sedan or limousine.Originally such drivers were always personal servants of the vehicle owner, but now in many cases specialist chauffeur service companies, or individual drivers provide...

     who lives above the garage. On Serena Joy's suggestion and arrangement, Offred starts a sexual relationship with him to try to increase her chances of getting pregnant and saving herself from being shipped to the ecological and nuclear wastelands of the Colonies. Offred subsequently starts to develop feelings for him, even going so far as to trust him with information about her pre-Gilead life. Nick is an ambiguous character, and Offred does not know if he is a party loyalist or a member of the resistance. Near the end of the story and her time in the Commander's household, Nick urges Offred to go with the secret police
    Secret police
    Secret police are a police agency which operates in secrecy and beyond the law to protect the political power of an individual dictator or an authoritarian political regime....

     despite Offred's uncertainty at whether this move will result in her escape or imprisonment. It is suggested in the epilogue that Nick was indeed a member of the Mayday resistance and that because of him, Offred was able to successfully escape the Commander's house.
  • Moira: a close friend of Offred's since college, hinted in the book to be either Harvard University
    Harvard University
    Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

     or Radcliffe College
    Radcliffe College
    Radcliffe College was a women's liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was the coordinate college for Harvard University. It was also one of the Seven Sisters colleges. Radcliffe College conferred joint Harvard-Radcliffe diplomas beginning in 1963 and a formal merger agreement with...

    . An important aspect of Moira is her homosexuality
    Homosexuality
    Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

     and resistance to the new homophobia
    Homophobia
    Homophobia is a term used to refer to a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards lesbian, gay and in some cases bisexual, transgender people and behavior, although these are usually covered under other terms such as biphobia and transphobia. Definitions refer to irrational fear, with the...

     that rules society. Moira is taken to be a Handmaid shortly after Offred, but both women arrive at the indoctrination center (officially called the Rachel and Leah Center, informally referred to by the Handmaids as the Red Center) at the same time. While at the center, Moira manages to escape by stealing an Aunt's pass and clothes and leaving the Center wearing them. Offred then loses track of her for several years but encounters her working as a prostitute in a party-run brothel. Moira had been caught and offered the choice between being sent to the Colonies or prostitution; she chose prostitution and forced sterilization. In Offred's flashbacks she is shown to be brazen and outspoken, but in the encounter at the brothel she is indifferent and resigned. Moira represents how the totalitarian state can destroy the hearts and characters of the most independent spirits. Moira, once strong and courageous, is now complacent and crushed.
  • Luke: Luke was Offred's husband prior to the formation of the Republic. He had divorced his first wife to marry Offred, and since all divorces have been retroactively nullified by the Gilead government, Offred is considered to be an adulteress and her daughter a bastard. On that pretext, Offred is forced to become a Handmaid and her daughter is given to a family who is faithful to the party. Luke, the narrator, and their daughter try to escape to Canada, but are captured. Offred knows nothing about what happened to Luke and alternatively resigns herself to his death and searches for him among the men in Gilead.
  • Professor Pieixoto: The "co-discoverer [with Professor Knotly Wade] of Offred's tapes" and "keynote speaker at the Twelfth Symposium of the Gileadean Research Association", where he "speaks about the 'Problems of Authentication in Reference to The Handmaid's Tale'." While speaking at the symposium, he makes two jokes about Gilead women, treating their plight with a certain degree of humor.

Social groups


In this novel characters are segregated by categories and dressed according to their social functions. The complex sumptuary law
Sumptuary law
Sumptuary laws are laws that attempt to regulate habits of consumption. Black's Law Dictionary defines them as "Laws made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance, particularly against inordinate expenditures in the matter of apparel, food, furniture, etc." Traditionally, they were...

s (dress codes) play a key role in imposing social control
Social control
Social control refers generally to societal and political mechanisms or processes that regulate individual and group behavior, leading to conformity and compliance to the rules of a given society, state, or social group. Many mechanisms of social control are cross-cultural, if only in the control...

 within the new society and serve to distinguish people by sex, occupation, and caste
Caste
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

.

Caste and class


African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

s, the main non-white ethnic group
Ethnic group
An ethnic group is a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, a common culture and/or an ideology that stresses common ancestry or endogamy...

 in this society, are called the Children of Ham
Hamitic
Hamitic is an historical term for the peoples supposedly descended from Noah's son Ham, paralleling Semitic and Japhetic.It was formerly used for grouping the non-Semitic Afroasiatic languages , but since, unlike the Semitic branch, these have not been shown to form a phylogenetic unity, the term...

, and one state TV broadcast mentions them being relocated en masse to "National Homelands" reminiscent of Apartheid-era South African homelands
Bantustan
A bantustan was a territory set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa and South West Africa , as part of the policy of apartheid...

, in the Midwest. The narrator wonders what they're supposed to do up there, thinking "farm, supposedly." Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 are called Sons of Jacob
Jacob
Jacob "heel" or "leg-puller"), also later known as Israel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the New Testament and the Qur'an was the third patriarch of the Hebrew people with whom God made a covenant, and ancestor of the tribes of Israel, which were named after his descendants.In the...

, which is also the name of the fundamentalist group that rules the Republic of Gilead. In the body of the novel, it is explained that the Jews were offered a choice of converting to Christianity or emigrating to Israel, and that most chose to leave. But in the epilogue, Professor Pieixoto says that at least some Jews who chose to leave were dumped into the sea on the way to Israel in boats, as a result of privatization of the "repatriation program" in order to maximize private profits. The narrator also reveals that many Jews who chose to stay were caught practicing Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 in secret and executed.

Gender and occupation


The sexes are strictly divided. Gilead's society values reproduction by white women more than reproduction by other women: women are categorised "hierarchically according to class status and reproductive capacity" as well as "metonymically colour-coded according to their function and their labour" (Kauffman 232). The Commander makes it clear that women are considered intellectually and emotionally inferior. Women are not permitted to read and girls are not educated.

Women are as visually segregated as men are. The men are equipped with military or paramilitary uniforms, constraining but, perhaps, empowering them as well. All classes of men and women are defined by the colours they wear (as in Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley
Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. Best known for his novels including Brave New World and a wide-ranging output of essays, Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry, and published short stories, poetry, travel...

's dystopia Brave New World
Brave New World
Brave New World is Aldous Huxley's fifth novel, written in 1931 and published in 1932. Set in London of AD 2540 , the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. The future society is an embodiment of the ideals that form the basis of...

), drawing on color symbolism and psychology. All lower status individuals are regulated by this dress code. All non-persons are banished to the 'Colonies' (usually forced-labor camps in which they clean up radioactive waste, becoming exposed and dying painful deaths as a result). Sterile, unmarried women are considered to be non-persons. Both men and women sent there wear grey
Grey
Grey or gray is an achromatic or neutral color.Complementary colors are defined to mix to grey, either additively or subtractively, and many color models place complements opposite each other in a color wheel. To produce grey in RGB displays, the R, G, and B primary light sources are combined in...

 clothing. Only rare civilians (who are increasingly persecuted) and Commanders seem to be free of sumptuary restrictions.

Men


According to their particular roles and duties, men are classified into four main categories:
  • Commanders of the Faithful – the ruling class
    Ruling class
    The term ruling class refers to the social class of a given society that decides upon and sets that society's political policy - assuming there is one such particular class in the given society....

    . Because of their status, they are entitled to establish a patriarchal household with a Wife, a Handmaid if necessary, Marthas (female servants) and Guardians. They have a duty to procreate, but many may be infertile, as a possible result of exposure to a biological agent in pre-Gilead times. They wear black to signify superiority. They are allowed cars.
  • Eyes – the internal intelligence agency
    Intelligence agency
    An intelligence agency is a governmental agency that is devoted to information gathering for purposes of national security and defence. Means of information gathering may include espionage, communication interception, cryptanalysis, cooperation with other institutions, and evaluation of public...

     who attempt to discover those violating the rules of Gilead.
  • Angels – soldiers who fight in the wars in order to expand and protect the country's borders. Angels may be permitted to marry.
  • Guardians (of the Faith) – soldiers "used for routine policing and other menial functions". They are unsuitable for other work in the republic being "stupid or older or disabled or very young, apart from the ones that are Eyes incognito" (chapter 4). Young Guardians may be promoted to Angels when they come of age
    Coming of age
    Coming of age is a young person's transition from childhood to adulthood. The age at which this transition takes place varies in society, as does the nature of the transition. It can be a simple legal convention or can be part of a ritual, as practiced by many societies...

    . They wear green uniforms.


Men who engage in homosexuality
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

 or related acts are declared "Gender Traitors" and either executed or sent to the "colonies" to die a slow death.

Women


There are six main categories of "legitimate" women, who make up mainstream society, and two main categories of "illegitimate" women, who exist outside of mainstream society:

Legitimate
  • Wives are at the top social level permitted to women. They are married to the higher-ranking functionaries. Wives always wear blue dresses, presumably as a reference to the traditional depictions of the Virgin Mary. (After the death of her husband, a Wife becomes a Widow and must dress in black.)
  • Daughters are the natural or adopted children of the ruling class
    Ruling class
    The term ruling class refers to the social class of a given society that decides upon and sets that society's political policy - assuming there is one such particular class in the given society....

    . They wear white until marriage. The narrator's daughter has been adopted by an infertile Wife and Commander.
  • Handmaids are fertile women whose social function is to bear children for the Wives. They dress in a red habit that completely conceals their shape, including red shoes and red gloves. The only exception to the "all red rule" is the white wings they wear around their head that prevent them from seeing or being seen except when standing directly in front of them. Handmaids are produced by re-educating fertile women who have broken the gender and social laws. Owing to the need for fertile Handmaids, Gilead gradually increased the number of gender-crimes. The Republic of Gilead justifies the nature of the handmaids through the biblical stories of Jacob taking his two wives' handmaids, Bilhah
    Bilhah
    In the Book of Genesis, Bilhah is Rachel's handmaid who becomes a wife of Jacob and bears him two sons, Dan and Naphtali....

     and Zilpah
    Zilpah
    In the Book of Genesis, Zilpah is Leah's handmaid who becomes a wife of Jacob and bears him two sons Gad and Asher....

    , to bed to bear him children, when the wives could not (Gen. 30:1–3), and Abraham doing the same with his wife's handmaid, Hagar
    Hagar (Bible)
    Hagar , according to the Abrahamic faiths, was the second wife of Abraham, and the mother of his first son, Ishmael. Her story is recorded in the Book of Genesis, mentioned in Hadith, and alluded to in the Qur'an...

     (Gen. 16:1–6).
  • Aunts train and monitor the Handmaids. The Aunts attempt to promote the role of the Handmaid as an honorable one and seek to legitimize it by downplaying any association with gender criminality. They do the dirty work of the men running Gilead in directly controlling and policing women—being an Aunt is the only way these unmarried, infertile, often older women may have any autonomy. It is also the only way to avoid going to the "colonies" for such women. Aunts dress in brown. They are also the only class of women permitted to read. ("The Aunts are allowed to read and write." Vintage Books, p. 139. However, in the Anchor Books edition, it says: "They played it (the Beatitudes) from a tape, so not even an Aunt would be guilty of the sin of reading. The voice was a man's. (p.89.)" In the Vintage Books edition: "They played it (the Beatitudes) from a disc, the voice was a man's." p. 100.)
  • Marthas are older infertile women whose compliant nature and domestic skills recommend them to a life of domestic servitude. They dress in green smocks. The title of "Martha" is based on a story in Luke
    Gospel of Luke
    The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

     10:38–42, where Jesus
    Jesus
    Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

     visits Mary, sister of Lazarus
    Mary, sister of Lazarus
    Mary of Bethany is a biblical figure described in the Gospels of John and Luke in the Christian New Testament...

     and Martha
    Martha (opera)
    Martha, oder Der Markt zu Richmond is a 'romantic comic' opera in four acts by Friedrich von Flotow, set to a German libretto by Friedrich Wilhelm Riese and based on a story by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges....

    ; Mary listens to Jesus while Martha is preoccupied "by all the preparations that had to be made".
  • Econowives are women who have married relatively low-ranking men, meaning any man who does not belong to the ruling elite
    Elite
    Elite refers to an exceptional or privileged group that wields considerable power within its sphere of influence...

    . They are expected to perform all the female functions: domestic duties, companionship, child-bearing. Their dress is multicoloured red, blue, and green to reflect these multiple roles.


The division of labor between women engenders some resentment between categories. Marthas, Wives and Econowives perceive Handmaids as sluttish. The narrator mourns that none of the various groups are able to empathize with the others; women are taught to hate and fear other women and thus remain divided in their oppression.

Illegitimate
  • Unwomen are sterile women, widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and politically dissident women: all women who are incapable of social integration
    Social integration
    Social integration, in sociology and other social sciences, is the movement of minority groups such as ethnic minorities, refugees and underprivileged sections of a society into the mainstream of societies...

     within the Republic's strict gender divisions. They are exiled to "the colonies", areas of both agricultural production and deadly pollution, as are handmaids who fail to produce a child after three two-year assignments.
  • Jezebels are prostitutes and entertainers, available only to the Commanders and their guests; some are lesbians and attractive, educated women unable to adjust to handmaid status. They have been sterilized, which is illegal for other women. They operate in unofficial but state-sanctioned brothels, and they seem to exist unbeknownst to most other women. Jezebels, whose title comes from the Biblical character, dress in the remnants of sexualized costumes from "the time before", such as cheerleaders
    Cheerleading
    Cheerleading is a physical activity, sometimes a competitive sport, based on organized routines, usually ranging from one to three minutes, which contain the components of tumbling, dance, jumps, cheers, and stunting to direct spectators of events to cheer on sports teams at games or to participate...

    ' costumes, school uniforms, and Playboy Bunny
    Playboy Bunny
    A Playboy Bunny is a waitress at the Playboy Club. The Playboy Clubs were originally open from 1960 to 1988. The Club re-opened in one location in The Palms Hotel in Las Vegas in 2006...

     costumes. While Jezebels have some degree of freedom in that they can wear makeup, drink alcohol, and socialize with men, they are still tightly controlled by Aunts. Once their usefulness for sex is over, they are sent to the Colonies.

Babies


In this society, birth defects have become increasingly common.

There are two main categories of human offspring:
  • Unbabies, also known as "shredders", are babies that are born physically deformed or with some other birth defect. They are quickly made to vanish; Offred does not know exactly how, and she comments that she does not wish to know. Having an Unbaby is a constant fear among pregnant Handmaids, as they do not know whether they are carrying one until after birth. In the Republic of Gilead, there is no need for amniocentesis
    Amniocentesis
    Amniocentesis is a medical procedure used in prenatal diagnosis of chromosomal abnormalities and fetal infections, in which a small amount of amniotic fluid, which contains fetal tissues, is sampled from the amnion or amniotic sac surrounding a developing fetus, and the fetal DNA is examined for...

    , ultrasound, or other modern prenatal health detection techniques, since abortion is not a legal option and medical doctors were executed and their corpses displayed on The Wall for performing abortions in the pre-Gileadan era.
  • Keepers are babies that are born alive with no defects.

Classification as science fiction or speculative fiction



In interviews and essays Atwood has discussed generic classification of The Handmaid's Tale as "science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

" or "speculative fiction
Speculative fiction
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as...

", observing:
I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can't yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth. But the terms are fluid.


Hugo-winning
Hugo Award
The Hugo Awards are given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and was officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards...

 science fiction critic David Langford
David Langford
David Rowland Langford is a British author, editor and critic, largely active within the science fiction field. He publishes the science fiction fanzine and newsletter Ansible.-Personal background:...

 observed in a column: "(…The Handmaid's Tale, won the very first Arthur C. Clarke award
Arthur C. Clarke Award
The Arthur C. Clarke Award is a British award given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The award was established with a grant from Arthur C. Clarke and the first prize was awarded in 1987...

 in 1987. She's been trying to live this down ever since.)" and goes on to point out:
Atwood prefers to say that she writes speculative fiction—a term coined by SF author Robert A. Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein was an American science fiction writer. Often called the "dean of science fiction writers", he was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre. He set a standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of...

. As she told the Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

, "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen." She used a subtly different phrasing for New Scientist, "Oryx and Crake
Oryx and Crake
Oryx and Crake is a novel by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Atwood has at times disputed the novel being science fiction, preferring to label it speculative fiction and "adventure romance" because it does not deal with 'things that have not been invented yet' and goes beyond the realism she...

is not science fiction. It is fact within fiction. Science fiction is when you have rockets and chemicals." So it was very cruel of New Scientist to describe this interview in the contents list as: "Margaret Atwood explains why science is crucial to her science fiction." … Play it again, Ms Atwood—this time for the Book-of-the-Month Club: "Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper. It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians." And one more time: on BBC1
BBC One
BBC One is the flagship television channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom. It was launched on 2 November 1936 as the BBC Television Service, and was the world's first regular television service with a high level of image resolution...

 Breakfast News
Breakfast News
Breakfast News was a breakfast news show which aired on BBC One from September 4, 1989 to September 15, 2000.The programme had been previously known as Breakfast Time....

the distinguished author explained that science fiction, as opposed to what she writes, is characterized by "talking squids in outer space." "


In distinguishing between these genre labels science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

and speculative fiction
Speculative fiction
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as...

, Atwood stated that while others might be using the terms interchangeably, whether classified as "science fiction proper" or as "speculative fiction", her narratives give her the ability to explore themes in ways that "realistic
Realism (arts)
Realism in the visual arts and literature refers to the general attempt to depict subjects "in accordance with secular, empirical rules", as they are considered to exist in third person objective reality, without embellishment or interpretation...

 fiction" cannot do.

Sex for reproduction only, not pleasure


Human sexuality
Human sexuality
Human sexuality is the awareness of gender differences, and the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses. Human sexuality can also be described as the way someone is sexually attracted to another person whether it is to opposite sexes , to the same sex , to either sexes , or not being...

 in Gilead is regulated by the notion that sexual intercourse is fundamentally degrading to women. Men are understood to desire sexual pleasure constantly, but are obliged to abstain from all but marital sex for religio-social reasons. The social regulations are enforced by law, with corporal punishment
Corporal punishment
Corporal punishment is a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable...

 inflicted for lesser offences and capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 for greater ones.

"The Ceremony" is a non-marital sexual act sanctioned solely for the purpose of reproduction, based on a Biblical passage described below. This Gileadian enactment has the Handmaid lying supine upon the Wife during the sex act itself. The handmaid is to lie between the Wife's legs as if they are one person. In this way, the Wife has to invite the Handmaid to share her power by inviting her to lie in her own personal space, which is considered both humiliating and offensive by many wives. Offred describes the ceremony:
"My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he's doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for." (page 94)


Once a Handmaid is pregnant, she is venerated by her peers and the Wives. After the baby is born, if it is not an "unbaby" or a "shredder", it is given to the Wife of her Commander, and she is reassigned to another household. She has the guarantee that she will never be declared an "Unwoman".

Pre-Gileadian society


The novel indicates that pre-Gileadian society was not favorable for women. This society was a late 20th-century version of the United States as Atwood envisioned it developing at the time of its writing (1985). In this society, women feared physical and sexual violence
Sexual violence
Sexual violence occurs throughout the world, although in most countries there has been little research conducted on the problem. Due to the private nature of sexual violence, estimating the extent of the problem is difficult...

, and despite long-running feminist campaigns (approximately 1970–2000 within the text), they had not achieved equality. Feminist campaigners like Offred's mother and Moira were persecuted by the state. Radical feminism
Radical feminism
Radical feminism is a current theoretical perspective within feminism that focuses on the theory of patriarchy as a system of power that organizes society into a complex of relationships based on an assumption that "male supremacy" oppresses women...

 had teamed up with social conservativism in campaigns against pornography. In addition, mass commercialization had reached a nadir of "fast-food" and "home delivery" sexuality. Women outside of prostitution in "the former times" were subject to a socially constructed vision of romantic love
Romantic love
Romance is the pleasurable feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.In the context of romantic love relationships, romance usually implies an expression of one's love, or one's deep emotional desires to connect with another person....

 that encouraged serial monogamy in favor of men's social and sexual interests.

In pre-Gileadean society, despite holding a university degree
Academic degree
An academic degree is a position and title within a college or university that is usually awarded in recognition of the recipient having either satisfactorily completed a prescribed course of study or having conducted a scholarly endeavour deemed worthy of his or her admission to the degree...

, Offred was a menial white collar
White-collar worker
The term white-collar worker refers to a person who performs professional, managerial, or administrative work, in contrast with a blue-collar worker, whose job requires manual labor...

 worker whose colleagues were all women, with a male boss. Aside from having had to cope with oppressive cultural and social phenomena, women lacked full and meaningful control over their economic lives.

The book also hints that the birth rate was in decline due to infertility caused by AIDS and "R-Strain" Syphilis epidemics prior to the revolution by noting that the Center where Moira and Offred were kept was a high school that had been closed sometime in the mid-1980s due to a lack of students.

In the novel, women are depicted as the property of men in both societies, in the United States as private property
Private property
Private property is the right of persons and firms to obtain, own, control, employ, dispose of, and bequeath land, capital, and other forms of property. Private property is distinguishable from public property, which refers to assets owned by a state, community or government rather than by...

 and in Gilead as social property.

The novel is set in the Harvard Square
Harvard Square
Harvard Square is a large triangular area in the center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street, and John F. Kennedy Street. It is the historic center of Cambridge...

 neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, in the Greater Boston area. It was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders. Cambridge is home to two of the world's most prominent...

, where Atwood studied at Radcliffe College
Radcliffe College
Radcliffe College was a women's liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was the coordinate college for Harvard University. It was also one of the Seven Sisters colleges. Radcliffe College conferred joint Harvard-Radcliffe diplomas beginning in 1963 and a formal merger agreement with...

, and many locations in the novel are recognizable. Victims of "Salvagings" (public executions) are hanged on the wall of Harvard Yard
Harvard Yard
Harvard Yard is a grassy area of about , adjacent to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that constitutes the oldest part and the center of the campus of Harvard University...

; Fred's home is on the famous "Professor's Row"; and the Brattle Theatre
Brattle Theatre
The Brattle Theatre is a repertory movie theater located in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States of America. The theatre is a small movie house with one screen. It is one of the few remaining movie theaters, if not the only one, that use a rear-projection system; the...

, Memorial Hall
Memorial Hall (Harvard University)
Memorial Hall is an imposing brick building in High Victorian Gothic style, located on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts...

 and Widener Library
Widener Library
The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, commonly known as Widener Library, is the primary building of the library system of Harvard University. Located on the south side of Harvard Yard directly across from Memorial Church, Widener serves as the centerpiece of the 15.6 million-volume Harvard...

 make very prominent cameos. "There are no lawyers now, and the university is closed", Offred thinks to herself, observing the changes.

Republic of Gilead



The Republic
Republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

 of Gilead
is a fictional country
Fictional country
A fictional country is a country that is made up for fictional stories, and does not exist in real life, or one that people believe in without proof....

 that is the setting of the Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood, is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is among the most-honoured authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C...

 dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel, a work of science fiction or speculative fiction, written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and first published by McClelland and Stewart in 1985...

.

Overview


The country exists within the borders of what was originally the United States of America. However, after an unspecified catastrophe (possibly a nuclear
Nuclear warfare
Nuclear warfare, or atomic warfare, is a military conflict or political strategy in which nuclear weaponry is detonated on an opponent. Compared to conventional warfare, nuclear warfare can be vastly more destructive in range and extent of damage...

 or biological war
Biological warfare
Biological warfare is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war...

 or extreme environmental pollution
Pollution
Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light...

), a meticulously planned terrorist
Terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

 attack was staged
False flag
False flag operations are covert operations designed to deceive the public in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities. The name is derived from the military concept of flying false colors; that is flying the flag of a country other than one's own...

 against the President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 and the Congress, which was afterwards referred to as "the President's Day massacre." Immediately after this, a revolution occurred which deposed the United States government and abolished the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

, and a new theocratic
Theocracy
Theocracy is a form of organization in which the official policy is to be governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, or simply pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religious sect or religion....

 government was formed under the rule of a military dictatorship
Military dictatorship
A military dictatorship is a form of government where in the political power resides with the military. It is similar but not identical to a stratocracy, a state ruled directly by the military....

. The government has proclaimed martial law
Martial law
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis— only temporary—when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively , when there are extensive riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the law...

 due to the destabilizing effect of "hordes of guerrillas
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

" roaming the countryside, although the actual threat from the "guerrillas" may be greatly exaggerated.The guerrillas in the novel are people from opposing religious groups, even Christians, who follow the teachings of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 .

The Republic of Gilead is governed according to strict Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

-based religious dogma
Dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...

. Other religions are not tolerated, and those who do not conform are quickly executed by the state or shipped to areas of the former US known as the "colonies" which have dangerously high levels of radiation
Radiation
In physics, radiation is a process in which energetic particles or energetic waves travel through a medium or space. There are two distinct types of radiation; ionizing and non-ionizing...

. The colonies are also the source of most of Gilead's agricultural production. For a brief period at the outset of the Republic, Jewish people also have the option of emigrating to Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, as they are regarded as Sons of Jacob
Jacob
Jacob "heel" or "leg-puller"), also later known as Israel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the New Testament and the Qur'an was the third patriarch of the Hebrew people with whom God made a covenant, and ancestor of the tribes of Israel, which were named after his descendants.In the...

and therefore deserving of special treatment.Those who may have formerly been considered African-American are redesignated the Children of Ham
Ham, son of Noah
Ham , according to the Table of Nations in the Book of Genesis, was a son of Noah and the father of Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan.- Hebrew Bible :The story of Ham is related in , King James Version:...

and transported to National Homeland One, believed to be located somewhere within the boundaries of what was previously North Dakota
North Dakota
North Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States of America, along the Canadian border. The state is bordered by Canada to the north, Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south and Montana to the west. North Dakota is the 19th-largest state by area in the U.S....

. However, some sources have suggested that formerly African-American women form part or all of the complement of the Marthas, a group of sterile, older women who are deemed most appropriate for a life of domestic servitude.

The Republic also has a brutal policy towards women, which forms much of the novel's central theme. In Gilead women are forbidden to read, and are segregated into an elaborate caste
Caste
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

 system in which their sexual activities are strictly controlled and regulated so as to serve the procreative agendas of the government. Ironically, despite its claim to be based on "traditional values", the Republic's misogyny
Misogyny
Misogyny is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Philogyny, meaning fondness, love or admiration towards women, is the antonym of misogyny. The term misandry is the term for men that is parallel to misogyny...

 is far more extreme than that of even the most misogynistic periods of premodern human history.

Biblical references


Some of the underpinnings of the Republic of Gilead come from the Bible, especially the Book of Genesis. The primary reference is to the story of Rachel
Rachel
Rachel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, is a prophet and the favorite wife of Jacob, one of the three Biblical Patriarchs, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She was the daughter of Laban and the younger sister of Leah, Jacob's first wife...

 and Leah
Leah
Leah , as described in the Hebrew Bible, is the first of the two concurrent wives of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob and mother of six of sons whose descendants became the Twelve Tribes of Israel, along with at least one daughter, Dinah. She is the daughter of Laban and the older sister of Rachel, whom...

 (Genesis 29:31–35; 30:1–24). Leah, Rachel's sister and the first wife of Jacob, was fertile and was blessed by God; but Rachel, Jacob's second wife, was thought to be infertile until much later in her life. Rachel and Leah compete in bearing sons for their husband by using their handmaids as proxies and taking immediate possession of the children they produce. In the context of Atwood's book, the story is one of female competition, jealousy, and reproductive cruelty.

The name "Gilead
Gilead
In the Bible "Gilead" means hill of testimony or mound of witness, , a mountainous region east of the Jordan River, situated in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is also referred to by the Aramaic name Yegar-Sahadutha, which carries the same meaning as the Hebrew . From its mountainous character...

" is also from Genesis and means "hill of testimony" or "mount of witness".

Key words and phrases


In this context of the novel's fictional futuristic fundamentalist social hierarchy, sterile is an "outlawed" word (161).

Atwood emphasises how changes in context affect behaviours and attitudes by repeating the phrase "Context is all" throughout the novel, establishing this precept as a motif
Motif (narrative)
In narrative, a motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative aspects such as theme or mood....

 (e.g., 144, 192). Playing the game of Scrabble
Scrabble
Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a game board marked with a 15-by-15 grid. The words are formed across and down in crossword fashion and must appear in a standard dictionary. Official reference works provide a list...

with her Commander illustrates the key significance of changes in "context"; once "the game of old men and women", the game became forbidden for women to play and therefore "desirable" (178–79). Through living in a morally rigid society, Offred has come to perceive the world differently than earlier. At one point, Offred is amazed at how "It has taken so little time to change our minds about things" (36). Revealing clothes and makeup
Cosmetics
Cosmetics are substances used to enhance the appearance or odor of the human body. Cosmetics include skin-care creams, lotions, powders, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail and toe nail polish, eye and facial makeup, towelettes, permanent waves, colored contact lenses, hair colors, hair sprays and...

 were part of her former life; yet, when she encounters some Japanese tourists wearing these, she is intrigued by her feeling that they are inappropriately dressed (36).

Another ironic
Irony
Irony is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions...

 motif in the novel derives from Offred's inability to understand the phrase "nolite te bastardes carborundorum
Illegitimi non carborundum
Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin aphorism meaning "Don't let the bastards grind you down". -History:...

" carved into the closet wall of her small bedroom: a well-known mock-Latin
Dog Latin
Dog Latin, Cod Latin, macaronic Latin, or mock Latin refers to the creation of a phrase or jargon in imitation of Latin, often by directly translating English words into Latin without conjugation or declension...

 aphorism
Aphorism
An aphorism is an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form.The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates...

 mockingly signifying "Don't let the bastards grind you down" (235).

Social critique


The Handmaid's Tale comprises a number of social critiques. Atwood sought to demonstrate that extremist views might result in fundamentalist totalitarianism
Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

. The novel presents a dystopian vision of life in the United States in the period projecting forward from the time of the writing (1985), covering the backlash against feminism
Feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

. This critique is most clearly seen in both Offred's memories of the slow social transformation towards theocratic fascism
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 and in the ideology
Ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

 of the Aunts. Atwood's motivations for writing the novel, reflecting the above statements, can be found in the interview appended to the 1998 version of the novel. She says, "This is a book about what happens when certain casually held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions" (394).

Atwood mocks those who talk of "traditional values
Traditional values
Traditional values refer to those beliefs, moral codes, and mores that are passed down from generation to generation within a culture, subculture or community.-Summary:Since the late 1970s in the U.S., the term "traditional values" has become synonymous...

" and those who suggest that women should return to being housewives. For Serena Joy, a formerly successful TV personality and public speaker, the religious and social ideology she has spent her entire long career publicly promoting has, in the end, destroyed her own life and happiness.

Atwood also offers a critique of contemporary feminism
Second-wave feminism
The Feminist Movement, or the Women's Liberation Movement in the United States refers to a period of feminist activity which began during the early 1960s and lasted through the early 1990s....

. By working against pornography, feminists in the early 1980s opened themselves up to criticism that they favoured censorship
Censorship
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

. Anti-pornography feminist activists such as Andrea Dworkin
Andrea Dworkin
Andrea Rita Dworkin was an American radical feminist and writer best known for her criticism of pornography, which she argued was linked to rape and other forms of violence against women....

 and Catharine MacKinnon
Catharine MacKinnon
Catharine Alice MacKinnon is an American feminist, scholar, lawyer, teacher and activist.- Biography :MacKinnon was born in Minnesota. Her mother is Elizabeth Valentine Davis; her father, George E. MacKinnon was a lawyer, congressman , and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit...

 made alliances with the religious right
Christian right
Christian right is a term used predominantly in the United States to describe "right-wing" Christian political groups that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies...

. This critique was adopted and made popular by dissident feminists such as Camille Paglia
Camille Paglia
Camille Anna Paglia , is an American author, teacher, and social critic. Paglia, a self-described dissident feminist, has been a Professor at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania since 1984...

. Atwood warns that the consequences of such an alliance may end up empowering feminists' worst enemies. She also suggests, through descriptions of the narrator's feminist mother burning books
Book burning
Book burning, biblioclasm or libricide is the practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media. In modern times, other forms of media, such as phonograph records, video tapes, and CDs have also been ceremoniously burned, torched, or shredded...

, that contemporary feminism was becoming overly rigid and adopting the same tactics of the religious right
Christian right
Christian right is a term used predominantly in the United States to describe "right-wing" Christian political groups that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies...

.

Most notably, Atwood critiques modern religious movements, specifically fundamentalist Christianity in the United States, with a reference to Islamic fundamentalism
Islamic fundamentalism
Islamic fundamentalism is a term used to describe religious ideologies seen as advocating a return to the "fundamentals" of Islam: the Quran and the Sunnah. Definitions of the term vary. According to Christine L...

 such as the theocracy founded in Iran in 1979
Islam in Iran
The Islamic conquest of Persia led to the end of the Sassanid Empire and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia. However, the achievements of the previous Persian civilizations were not lost, but were to a great extent absorbed by the new Islamic polity...

. An American religious revival in the mid-1970s had led to the growth of the religious right
Christian right
Christian right is a term used predominantly in the United States to describe "right-wing" Christian political groups that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies...

 through televangelism
Televangelism
Televangelism is the use of television to communicate the Christian faith. The word is a portmanteau of television and evangelism and was coined by Time magazine. A “televangelist” is a Christian minister who devotes a large portion of his ministry to television broadcasting...

. Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

, then president, had avowed his renewed and reaffirmed Christianity; Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

 was elected as his successor using a specifically Christian discourse.

Atwood pictures revivalism as counter-revolutionary, opposed to the revolutionary doctrine espoused by Offred's mother and Moira, which sought to break down gender categories. A Marxist reading of fascism
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 explains it as the backlash of the right after a failed revolution. Atwood explores this Marxist reading and translates its analysis into the structure of a religious and gender revolution. "From each according to her ability… to each according to his needs" (117) is a deliberate distortion of Marx's phrase, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need
From each according to his ability, to each according to his need
From each according to his ability, to each according to his need is a slogan popularised by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. In German, "Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!"...

" — the latter, an ideological statement on class and society; the former, a stance taken by Gileadian society towards gender roles.

Atwood's social critique in the novel has been challenged, such as by conservative pundit Elizabeth Kantor. Kantor argues that Atwood's "dreary" and "third-rate" novel, being based on a superficial and selective interpretation of Chaucer, misrepresents its source of inspiration: "Medieval literature is nothing at all like the what you expect if you go into it with the impression that an explicitly Christian society must be some kind of totalitarian nightmare." Christianity—in the form of the Pope—actually serves as a check on the abuses of royal power, suggests Kantor. In contrast to Atwood's depiction of a society where oppression of women is the norm, Kantor suggests that Chaucer reveals a world where courtly love
Courtly love
Courtly love was a medieval European conception of nobly and chivalrously expressing love and admiration. Generally, courtly love was secret and between members of the nobility. It was also generally not practiced between husband and wife....

 has improved the social status of women, and where women are depicted vividly, realistically and sympathetically; they "choose husbands or lovers, are disobedient, exert control over their husband's money, and have a very healthy interest in sex. [...] Chaucer pokes fun at the kind of man who is so deluded about a woman's innocent, shrinking-violet nature as to imagine that his physical attentions will be too much for her."

Awards

  • 1985 – Governor General's Award for English language fiction
    Governor General's Award for English language fiction
    This is a list of recipients of the Governor General's Award for English language fiction.-1930s:*1936: Bertram Brooker, Think of the Earth*1937: Laura Salverson, The Dark Weaver*1938: Gwethalyn Graham, Swiss Sonata...

     (winner)
  • 1986 – Booker Prize (nominated)
  • 1986 – Nebula Award
    Nebula Award
    The Nebula Award is given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America , for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the previous year...

     (nominated)
  • 1987 – Arthur C. Clarke Award
    Arthur C. Clarke Award
    The Arthur C. Clarke Award is a British award given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The award was established with a grant from Arthur C. Clarke and the first prize was awarded in 1987...

     (winner)
  • 1987 – Prometheus Award
    Prometheus Award
    The Prometheus Award is an award for libertarian science fiction novels given annually by the Libertarian Futurist Society, which also publishes a quarterly journal Prometheus. L. Neil Smith established the award in 1979, but it was not awarded regularly until the newly founded Libertarian Futurist...

     (nominated)

Frequent challenges, ALA conference, and controversy


The American Library Association
American Library Association
The American Library Association is a non-profit organization based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. It is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 62,000 members....

 (ALA) lists The Handmaid's Tale as number 37 on the "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000".

Atwood participated in discussing The Handmaid's Tale as "the subject of the ALA's first conference-wide discussion series, 'One Book, One Conference,' which was so successful that its Public Programs Office was considering hosting a second series in 2004."

According to Education Reporter Kristin Rushowy of the Toronto Star (16 Jan. 2009), in 2008 a parent in Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

, Canada, wrote a letter to his son's high school principal, asking that the book no longer be assigned as required reading, stating that the novel is "rife with brutality towards and mistreatment of women (and men at times), sexual scenes, and bleak depression." Rushowy quotes the response of Russell Morton Brown, a retired University of Toronto
University of Toronto
The University of Toronto is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, situated on the grounds that surround Queen's Park. It was founded by royal charter in 1827 as King's College, the first institution of higher learning in Upper Canada...

 English professor, who acknowledged that "The Handmaid's Tale wasn't likely written for 17-year-olds, 'but neither are a lot of things we teach in high school, like Shakespeare. … 'And they are all the better for reading it. They are on the edge of adulthood already, and there's no point in coddling them,' he said, adding, 'they aren't coddled in terms of mass media today anyway.' … He said the book has been accused of being anti-Christian and, more recently, anti-Islamic because the women are veiled and polygamy is allowed. … But that 'misses the point,' said Brown. 'It's really anti-fundamentalism.' " In her earlier account (14 Jan. 2009), Rushowy indicates that, in response to the parent's complaint, a Toronto District School Board
Toronto District School Board
Toronto District School Board, also known by the acronym TDSB, is the English-language public school board for Toronto, Ontario, Canada...

 committee was "reviewing the novel"; while noting that "The Handmaid's Tale is listed as one of the 100 'most frequently challenged books' from 1990 to 1999 on the American Library Association
American Library Association
The American Library Association is a non-profit organization based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. It is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 62,000 members....

's website", Rushowy reports that "The Canadian Library Association
Canadian Library Association
The Canadian Library Association is a national, predominantly English-language association which represents 57,000 library workers across the country. It also speaks for the interests of the 21 million Canadians who are members of libraries...

 says there is 'no known instance of a challenge to this novel in Canada' but says the book was called anti-Christian and pornographic by parents after being placed on a reading list for secondary students in Texas in the 1990s."

Adaptations



The 1990 film The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale (film)
The Handmaid's Tale is a 1990 film adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name. Directed by Volker Schlöndorff the film stars Natasha Richardson , Faye Dunaway , Robert Duvall , Aidan Quinn , and Elizabeth McGovern . The screenplay was written by Harold Pinter...

was based on a screenplay by Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter, CH, CBE was a Nobel Prize–winning English playwright and screenwriter. One of the most influential modern British dramatists, his writing career spanned more than 50 years. His best-known plays include The Birthday Party , The Homecoming , and Betrayal , each of which he adapted to...

 and directed by Volker Schlöndorff
Volker Schlöndorff
Volker Schlöndorff is a Berlin-based German filmmaker who has worked in Germany, France and the United States...

. It starred Natasha Richardson
Natasha Richardson
Natasha Jane Richardson was an English actress of stage and screen. A member of the Redgrave family, she was the daughter of actress Vanessa Redgrave and director/producer Tony Richardson and the granddaughter of Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson...

 as Offred, Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway is an American actress.Dunaway won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Network after receiving previous nominations for the critically acclaimed films Bonnie and Clyde and Chinatown...

 as Serena Joy, and Robert Duvall
Robert Duvall
Robert Selden Duvall is an American actor and director. He has won an Academy Award, two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and a BAFTA over the course of his career....

 as The Commander (Fred).

A dramatic adaptation of the novel for radio was produced for BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

 by John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

 in 2000. An operatic adaptation, The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale (opera)
The Handmaid's Tale is an opera composed by the Danish composer Poul Ruders, to a libretto by Paul Bentley based on the novel of the same name written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood.-Synopsis:...

, by Poul Ruders
Poul Ruders
Poul Ruders is a Danish composer.Ruders trained as an organist, and studied orchestration with Karl Aage Rasmussen. Ruders's first compositions date from the mid-1960s...

, premiered in Copenhagen
Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

 on 6 March 2000, and was performed by the English National Opera
English National Opera
English National Opera is an opera company based in London, resident at the London Coliseum in St. Martin's Lane. It is one of the two principal opera companies in London, along with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden...

, in London, in 2003. It was the opening production of the 2004–2005 season of the Canadian Opera Company.

A stage adaptation of the novel, by Brendon Burns, for the Haymarket Theatre
Haymarket Theatre
The Theatre Royal Haymarket is a West End theatre in the Haymarket in the City of Westminster which dates back to 1720, making it the third-oldest London playhouse still in use...

, Basingstoke
Basingstoke
Basingstoke is a town in northeast Hampshire, in south central England. It lies across a valley at the source of the River Loddon. It is southwest of London, northeast of Southampton, southwest of Reading and northeast of the county town, Winchester. In 2008 it had an estimated population of...

, England, toured the UK in 2002.

Translations


Translated into Danish as Tjenerindens fortælling; Dutch as Het Verhaal van de Dienstmaagd; Estonian as Teenijanna lugu; French as La Servante écarlate; German as Der Report der Magd; Greek as Η ιστορία της πορφυρής δούλης; Hungarian as A szolgálólány meséje; Polish as Opowieść podręcznej; Spanish as El relato de la criada; Vietnamese as Chuyện người tùy nữ (translation sponsored by Canada Council for the Arts); and Icelandic as Saga þernunnar.

See also



Related works by Atwood
  • "Freeforall"
    Freeforall (short story)
    "Freeforall" is a 1986 short story by Margaret Atwood.-Summary:The story is set in the near future, a time of widespread and rampant sexually transmitted disease, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It describes a dystopian society with extremely limited freedoms tightly regulated by a totalitarian state...

    , 1986 short story

Related works by other authors
  • Consider Her Ways
    Consider Her Ways
    Consider Her Ways is a 1956 science fiction novella by John Wyndham. It was published as part of a 1961 collection with some short stories called Consider Her Ways and Others .-Plot:...

    , by John Wyndham
    John Wyndham
    John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was an English science fiction writer who usually used the pen name John Wyndham, although he also used other combinations of his names, such as John Beynon and Lucas Parkes...

  • The Children of Men
    The Children of Men
    The Children of Men is a dystopian novel by P. D. James that was published in 1992. Set in England in 2021, it centres on the results of mass infertility...

    , by P. D. James
    P. D. James
    Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL , commonly known as P. D. James, is an English crime writer and Conservative life peer in the House of Lords, most famous for a series of detective novels starring policeman and poet Adam Dalgliesh.-Life and career:James...

  • If This Goes On—, by Robert A. Heinlein
    Robert A. Heinlein
    Robert Anson Heinlein was an American science fiction writer. Often called the "dean of science fiction writers", he was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre. He set a standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of...

  • Native Tongue, by Suzette Haden Elgin
    Suzette Haden Elgin
    Suzette Haden Elgin is an American science fiction author. She founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and is considered an important figure in the field of science fiction constructed languages...

  • Swastika Night
    Swastika Night
    Swastika Night is a futuristic novel first published in 1937 and republished in 1940 by Katharine Burdekin, writing under the pseudonym Murray Constantine. Swastika Night was a Left Book Club selection in 1940....

    , by Katharine Burdekin
    Katharine Burdekin
    Katharine Burdekin was a British novelist who wrote speculative fiction dealing with political, social, and spiritual issues. She was the sister of Rowena Cade, creator of the Minack Theatre in Cornwall. Many of her novels could be categorized as feminist utopian/dystopian fiction...

  • The Chrysalids
    The Chrysalids
    The Chrysalids is a science fiction novel by John Wyndham, first published in 1955 by Michael Joseph. It is the least typical of Wyndham's major novels, but regarded by some people as his best...

    , by John Wyndham
    John Wyndham
    John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was an English science fiction writer who usually used the pen name John Wyndham, although he also used other combinations of his names, such as John Beynon and Lucas Parkes...

  • Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Kazuo Ishiguro
    Kazuo Ishiguro OBE or ; born 8 November 1954) is a Japanese–English novelist. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan, and his family moved to England in 1960. Ishiguro obtained his Bachelor's degree from University of Kent in 1978 and his Master's from the University of East Anglia's creative writing...



Related topics
  • Feminist science fiction
    Feminist science fiction
    Feminist science fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction which tends to deal with women's roles in society. Feminist science fiction poses questions about social issues such as how society constructs gender roles, the role reproduction plays in defining gender and the unequal political and...

  • Pregnancy in science fiction
    Pregnancy in science fiction
    Because speculative genres explore variants of reproduction, as well as possible futures, SF writers have often explored the social, political, technological, and biological consequences of pregnancy and reproduction.-Themes:...


Works cited


Alexander, Lynn. "The Handmaid's Tale: Working Bibliography". Department of English, University of Tennessee at Martin
University of Tennessee at Martin
The University of Tennessee at Martin is a campus in the University of Tennessee system. Other campuses include the flagship campus in Knoxville, the Chattanooga campus, the Center for the Health Sciences in Memphis, and the Space Institute in Tullahoma...

(utm.edu). The University of Tennessee at Martin, n.d. Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

. 22 May 2009. [Hyperlinked to online resources for Women Writers: Magic, Mysticism, and Mayhem, taught by Dr. Alexander in Spring 1999. Includes entry for book chap. by Kauffman.]
American Library Association
American Library Association
The American Library Association is a non-profit organization based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. It is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 62,000 members....

 (ALA). "The100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000". American Library Association. American Library Association, 2009. Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

. 22 May 2009.
Atwood, Margaret
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood, is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is among the most-honoured authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C...

. "Aliens Have Taken the Place of Angels". Guardian.co.uk
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

. Guardian Media Group
Guardian Media Group
Guardian Media Group plc is a company of the United Kingdom owning various mass media operations including The Guardian and The Observer. The Group is owned by the Scott Trust. It was founded as the Manchester Guardian Ltd in 1907 when C. P. Scott bought the Manchester Guardian from the estate of...

, 17 June 2005. Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

. 21 May 2009.

–––. The Handmaid's Tale. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart
McClelland and Stewart
McClelland & Stewart Limited is a Canadian publishing company. It is partially owned by Random House of Canada, now a subsidiary of Bertelsmann....

, 1985. ISBN 0771008139. New York: Anchor Books (Div. of Random House), 1998. ISBN 038549081X (10). ISBN 9780385490818 (13). (Parenthetical page references are to the 1998 ed.) "Digitized Jun 2, 2008" according to Google Books. (311 pages.)

–––. La Servante écarlate. Trans. Sylviane Rué. Paris: J'ai Lu, 2005. ISBN 2290347108 (10). ISBN 9782290347102 (13). [Translation of The Handmaid's Tale.]

Kauffman, Linda. "Special Delivery: Twenty-First Century Epistolarity in The Handmaid's Tale." 221–44 (chap. 6) in Writing the Female Voice: Essays on Epistolary Literature. Ed. Elizabeth Goldsmith. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1989. [Cited in Alexander.]

Langford, David
David Langford
David Rowland Langford is a British author, editor and critic, largely active within the science fiction field. He publishes the science fiction fanzine and newsletter Ansible.-Personal background:...

. "Bits and Pieces". SFX 107 (Aug. 2003). Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

. 9 May 2009.

Miner, Madonne. " 'Trust Me': Reading the Romance Plot in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale." Twentieth Century Literature 37 (1991): 148–168.

Rushowy, Kristin. "Atwood Novel Too Brutal, Sexist for School: Parent". Toronto Star (ParentCentral.ca). The Toronto Star, 16 Jan. 2009. Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

. 9 May 2009.

–––. "Complaint Spurs School Board to Review Novel by Atwood". Toronto Star (ParentCentral.ca). The Toronto Star, 14 Jan. 2009. Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

. 21 May 2009.


Further reading

  • Adami, Valentina. Bioethics Through Literature: Margaret Atwood's Cautionary Tales. Trier: WVT, 2011.
  • Bloom, Harold, ed. The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publications, 2001.
  • Cooper, Pamela. “'A Body Story with a Vengeance': Anatomy and Struggle in The Bell Jar and The Handmaid’s Tale”. Women’s Studies 26.1 (1997): 89-123.
  • Dopp, Jamie. “Subject-Position as Victim-Position in The Handmaid’s Tale”. Studies in Canadian Literature 19.1 (1994): 43-57.
  • Gardner, Laurel J. “Pornography as a Matter of Power in The Handmaid’s Tale”. Notes on Contemporary Literature 24.5 (1994): 5-7.
  • Garretts-Petts, W. F. “Reading, Writing and the Postmodern Condition: Interpreting Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale”. Open Letter Seventh Series I (1988).
  • Hammer, Stephanie Barbé. “The World as It Will Be? Female Satire and the Technology of Power in The Handmaid’s Tale”. Modern Language Studies XX.2 (1990): 39-49.
  • Malak, Amin. “Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the Dystopian Tradition”. Canadian Literature 112 (1987): 9-16.
  • McCarthy, Mary. "No Headline": The Handmaid's Tale (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). New York Times
    The New York Times
    The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

    , Books, 9 February 1986, 9 May 2009. (Book rev.)
  • Myrsiades, Linda. “Law, Medicine, and the Sex Slave in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale”. Un-Disciplining Literature: Literature, Law, and Culture. Ed. Myrsiades, Kostas, and Linda Myrsiades. New York: Peter Lang, 1999: 219-45.
  • Stanners, Barbara, Michael Stanners, and Margaret Atwood. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Top Notes Literature Guides. Seven Hills, N.S.W.: Five Senses Education, 2004.


External links

  • The Handmaid's TaleMargaret Atwood
    Margaret Atwood
    Margaret Eleanor Atwood, is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is among the most-honoured authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C...

     discusses her novel on World Book Club
    World Book Club
    World Book Club is a radio programme on the BBC World Service. Each edition of the programme, which is broadcast on the first Saturday of the month with repeats into the following Monday, features a famous author discussing one of his or her books, often the most well-known one, with the public...

    , BBC World Service
    BBC World Service
    The BBC World Service is the world's largest international broadcaster, broadcasting in 27 languages to many parts of the world via analogue and digital shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays...

     (Audio file format
    Audio file format
    An audio file format is a file format for storing digital audio data on a computer system. This data can be stored uncompressed, or compressed to reduce the file size. It can be a raw bitstream, but it is usually a container format or an audio data format with defined storage layer.-Types of...

    ). [First broadcast in April 2003.]