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Encyclopedia > The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale

Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Margaret Atwood
Cover artist Tad Aronowcz, design; Gail Geltner, collage (first edition, hardback)
Country Canada
Language English
Genre(s) dystopia, science fiction
Publisher McClelland and Stewart
Publication date 1985
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 324 (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN ISBN 0-7710-0813-9 (first edition, hardcover)

The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, first published by McClelland and Stewart in 1985. The novel, set in Cambridge, Massachusetts,[1] explores themes of women in subjugation, and the various means by which they gain agency, against a backdrop of the establishment of a totalitarian theocratic state. Sumptuary laws (essentially, dress codes) play a key role in the form of social control in the new society. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Margaret Eleanor Atwood, OC (born November 18, 1939) is a Canadian writer. ... For other uses, see Country (disambiguation). ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Utopian fiction is the creation of an ideal world as the setting for a novel. ... Science fiction is a form of speculative fiction principally dealing with the impact of imagined science and technology, or both, upon society and persons as individuals. ... A publisher is a person or entity which engages in the act of publishing. ... McClelland and Stewart is a Canadian publishing company. ... See also: 1984 in literature, other events of 1985, 1986 in literature, list of years in literature. ... Hardcover books A hardcover (or hardback or hardbound) is a book bound with rigid protective covers (typically of cardboard covered with cloth, heavy paper, or sometimes leather). ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... “ISBN” redirects here. ... Utopian fiction is the creation of an ideal world as the setting for a novel. ... For other uses, see Author (disambiguation). ... Margaret Eleanor Atwood, OC (born November 18, 1939) is a Canadian writer. ... McClelland and Stewart is a Canadian publishing company. ... See also: 1984 in literature, other events of 1985, 1986 in literature, list of years in literature. ... Location in Middlesex County in Massachusetts Coordinates: , Country State County Middlesex Settled 1630 Incorporated 1636 Government  - Type Mayor-City Council  - Mayor Kenneth Reeves (D) Area  - City  7. ... Agency considered in the philosophical sense is the capacity of an agent to act in a world. ... The concept of Totalitarianism is a typology or ideal-type used by some political scientists to encapsulate the characteristics of a number of twentieth century regimes that mobilized entire populations in support of the state or an ideology. ... Theocracy is a form of government in which a religion and the government are allied. ... Sumptuary laws (from Latin sumptuariae leges) were laws that regulated and reinforced social hierarchies and morals through restrictions on clothing, food, and luxury expenditures. ... For other uses, see Society (disambiguation). ...

The novel is often studied by school and college students.[2][3] The American Library Association lists it in "10 Most Challenged Books of 1999" and as number 37 on the "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000"[4] due to a high volume of complaints from parents of pupils on these courses regarding the novel's anti-religious content and sexual references. ALA Logo The American Library Association (ALA) is a group based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. ... See also: 1998 in literature, other events of 1999, 2000 in literature, list of years in literature. ... See also: 1999 in literature, other events of 2000, 2001 in literature, list of years in literature. ...

The Handmaid's Tale won the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987. It was also nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award, the 1987 Prometheus Award, and the 1986 Booker Prize. 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. ... See also: 1986 in literature, other events of 1987, 1988 in literature, list of years in literature. ... The year 1986 in literature involved some significant events and new books. ... The Nebula is an award given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the two previous years (see rolling eligibility below). ... The Prometheus Award is an award for libertarian science fiction novels given out annually by the Libertarian Futurist Society (which also publishes a quarterly journal, Prometheus). ... The Man Booker Prize for Fiction, also known as the Man Booker Prize, or simply the Man Booker, is one of the worlds most important literary prizes, and awarded each year for the best original novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland in...


Plot summary

The story is told from the perspective of Offred, a handmaid. Offred is a patronymic which describes her function in the Republic of Gilead. Offred belongs to her Commander, Fred, as a concubine; her real name is not revealed. Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to the participant role of a referent, such as the speaker, the addressee, and others. ... This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedias deletion policy. ... Look up patronymic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A swampy marsh area ...

As the novel opens, the government of the United States has been overthrown several years earlier. The country has been taken over by Christian fundamentalists who have renamed it and made it into a theocratic state. Women must submit to men and no longer have any civil rights. Their chief function is childbearing and taking care of their husbands. This has been imposed as a means to improve the birth rate as infertility has become rampant due to environmental pollution. This also makes it a serious problem for the handmaids as the punishment for failing to produce a child after attempts with three commanders is to be declared an Unwoman and then sent to the colonies. Furthermore, Gilead does not recognize male infertility.

Highly placed party men — known as Commanders — in the Gilead government are given handmaids to have sex with and bear their children, just as Bilhah and Zilpah, handmaids to the biblical matriarchs Rachael and Leah, bore children for them with Jacob when they were infertile. Handmaids are drawn from "fallen women" — those who have committed sexual crimes. In the Book of Genesis, Bilhah (בִּלְהָה Faltering; bashful, Standard Hebrew Bilha, Tiberian Hebrew Bilhāh) is a concubine of Jacob, and bears him two sons, Dan and Naphtali. ... In the Book of Genesis, Zilpah (זִלְפָּה Drooping, Standard Hebrew Zilpa, Tiberian Hebrew Zilpāh) is a concubine of Jacob and the mother of Gad and Asher. ... For other people with an alternate spelling, see Rachel (disambiguation). ... Look up Leah, לֵאָה in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... This article is about Jacob in the Hebrew Bible. ...

The narrator was previously married to a divorced man. Since divorce has been declared retroactively non-existent, she was declared to have been living in sin with him. Her daughter is taken away from her to be raised by another family, and she, with proven fertility, is forced to become a handmaid. Offred is placed in the household of the Commander Fred, and Serena Joy, his wife.

Handmaids spend a maximum of two years in a particular household before they are moved. Those who cannot conceive within three placements are deemed barren Unwomen and sent to the colonies, so that many genuinely fertile Handmaids seek to impregnate themselves using alternative methods. For example, when Offred receives a medical check-up, the doctor offers to "do the job" for her. Similarly, Fred's wife Serena Joy arranges an illicit affair between Offred and Nick the chauffeur, so that Offred may conceive and produce a child for Serena Joy and her husband and avoid deportation. The dual pressure to conceive produces an insurmountable psychosis in the handmaids. Offred frequently refers to the words secretly carved in dog Latin inside her closet where no one can see, presumably left by a former handmaid — Nolite te bastardes carborundorum (Don't let the bastards grind you down). Offred's current assignment is her third after she had failed to become pregnant with her previous two Commanders. Psychosis is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a loss of contact with reality. Stedmans Medical Dictionary defines psychosis as a severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration... The phrase Dog Latin refers to the creation of a phrase or jargon in imitation of Latin, often by directly translating English words (or those of other European languages) into Latin without conjugation or declension. ... Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin aphorism jokingly taken to mean dont let the bastards grind you down. There are many variants of the phrase, such as Non illegitimis carborundum. ... This article is about human pregnancy in biological females. ...

This third assignment differs from her earlier experiences in that she is given, in various disjointed episodes, glimpses that all is not as it seems in Gilead. Through these glimpses she discovers that the people in her life, while paying lip service to Gilead's rigid mores, seek various means of expressing their illicit desires.

Offred initially becomes aware of these transgressions when Fred orders her to visit his study late at night. He wishes to establish a more personal relationship with her, as he is forbidden to converse with her outside of their monthly sex. He offers to play Scrabble with her. Since women are forbidden from reading and restricted to specific duties assigned to them, this is an illicit activity. He also obtains forbidden hand lotion for her and allows her to read books and magazines from the past. On one occasion, he dresses her in a sexy costume and smuggles her into Jezebel's, a nightclub and brothel run by the party. He asks that she keep all this secret from his Wife, Serena Joy. The verb to scrabble also means to scratch, scramble or scrape about: see Wiktionary:scrabble. ... For other uses, see Book (disambiguation). ... This article is about the magazine as a published medium. ... Laser lights illuminate the dance floor at a Gatecrasher dance music event in Sheffield, England A nightclub (or night club or club) is a drinking, dancing, and entertainment venue which does its primary business after dark. ... A brothel, also known as a bordello or whorehouse, is an establishment specifically dedicated to prostitution, providing the prostitutes a place to meet and to have sex with the clients. ...

At the same time, Serena Joy has also asked Offred to keep secrets from the Commander. Resentful of having been deprived of her formerly prominent role as a televangelist and right-wing lecturer, she feels the only thing that can give meaning to her life is a child. Since the Commander is likely to be sterile (his previous handmaids did not conceive), Serena Joy suggests that Offred attempt to conceive a child with Nick, the chauffeur, later revealed to be a member of the Mayday underground resistance. In the USA, a televangelist (television evangelist) is a religious minister (often a Christian priest or minister) who devotes a large portion of his (or her) ministry to TV broadcasts to a regular viewing and listening audience. ... A chauffeur in Japan A driver in Kerala A chauffeur is one who drives an automobile as a job. ... A resistance movement is a group or collection of individual groups, dedicated to fighting an invader in an occupied country or the government of a sovereign nation through either the use of physical force, or nonviolence. ...

Nick and Offred begin an emotional and sexual relationship which they continue until the end of the novel where it is left a little ambiguous whether Offred's transgressions have been discovered and is taken away for them or is being smuggled out of the household by the resistance movement. By this time, Offred and Nick believe that she might be pregnant. People smuggling is a term which is used to describe the illegal and organised smuggling of people across international boundaries, usually for financial gain. ...

Even though her fate is not made clear by the ambiguous ending, since she was able to make tapes on which she recounts her experiences — as stated in the appendix — it seems likely that she was rescued and may have been able to leave the country via the "Underground Femaleroad." Offred's on-tape narrative is treated as a historical document and is discussed at an academic conference far in the future.

Characters in The Handmaid's Tale


The protagonist in the tale, Offred, was separated from her husband and child after the formation of the Republic of Gilead. Since she has proven fertile, she is considered an important commodity and has now been placed as a handmaid in the home of the Commander Fred and his wife Serena Joy to bear a child for them.

The story is told from her perspective as a first person narrative put together after the fact. Despite it not being explicitly stated, we are led to believe that she escaped in the end and has recorded this portion of her life onto tapes which have been discovered and transcribed.

Offred's former name is never explicitly given, but it is implied that it is June. At the beginning of the novel, all of the women training to be handmaids recite their names, and all are later accounted for except June. In addition, one of the Aunts tells Offred to stop "mooning and June-ing." It may well be a pseudonym as "Mayday" is the name of the Gilead resistance and could be an attempt on the protagonist's part to make something up; the Nunavit conference that takes place in the novel's final chapter is held in June, as well. [5]

The Commander (Fred)

Commanders are very powerful members of the party running Gilead. They are given homes, servants, a car, access to the government's secret brothel and their own handmaid. If a handmaid is unable to bear a child, the blame is placed on the handmaid and he is given a new handmaid who is called by his name combined with the prefix "Of".

His background is never officially described as Offred does not have 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 previously involved in something like Market Research. Later, it is hypothesized—but not confirmed—that he might have been one of the architects of the republic and its laws. For other uses, see Law (disambiguation). ...

Serena Joy

An ex-televangelist who seems loosely based on Tammy Faye Bakker, she is now a Wife in the fundamentalist theocracy she helped to create. All power and public exposure have been taken away from her by the state, as it has for all women in Gilead. Being sterile, she also has to bear the indignity of having a handmaid, and being present every month as her husband has sex with the handmaid. Tammy Faye Bakker Messner (born March 7, 1942) is the former wife of televangelist and later convicted felon Jim Bakker. ...


A neighbor of Offred's and fellow handmaid, she has been partnered with Offred to do the shopping for the household each day. Ofglen is a member of the Mayday resistance, and gets Offred involved. In contrast to the relatively passive Offred, Ofglen is very daring, even leaping forward to kill a spy who is to be tortured and killed in a "particicution," in order to save him the pain of a slow death. Ofglen later commits suicide before the government comes to take her away for being part of the resistance.

She is replaced as Offred's shopping partner by another handmaiden, also named Ofglen, who does not share the original Ofglen's feelings about Gilead.


The Commander's chauffeur, he 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 becoming an Unwoman and being shipped off to the Colonies. She subsequently starts to have real feelings for him. Nick is an ambiguous character, and Offred does not know if he is a party loyalist or a member of Mayday.


Moira has been a close friend of Offred's since college. She is a rebel, and a lesbian. The two of them are taken to be handmaids together. Moira attempts to escape, while Offred who is passive, declines. Offred then loses track of Moira for several years, but encounters her at Jezebel's, the party-run brothel. Moira has been caught, sterilized and forced to become a prostitute by the Gilead leaders. She is grimly practical about her life of having sex with party leaders. Once her "snatch" wears out, she will be declared an Unwoman and sent to the colonies to clean up nuclear waste.


Luke was Offred's husband. Offred started seeing him secretly while he was still married to his wife, who he then divorced in order to marry Offred. Luke, Offred, and their daughter try to escape Gilead to go to Canada, but are captured. She constantly expects to see him hanged at The Wall but never sees him there and she never learns Luke's fate.

Major themes

Male Dominance

Male dominance remains a major theme within the handmaid's tale. The men occupy many of the upper social classes within society and like women they all have their particluar roles and duties to carry out.

  • Commanders are the most important beings within the Republic of Gilead. Like the handmaids their role is to procreate but due to their gender however, this role within society is elavated above that of the handmaids. They wear black to signify superiority and are given homes, servants, a car, access to the government's secret brothel and their own handmaid in order to reaffirm this.
  • Eyes - spies who attempt to root out those in the resistance. Often, however, Eyes are also members of the resistance, as we are led to believe Nick is.
  • Angels - soldiers who fight in the Gileadean wars in order to expand and protect the country's borders
  • Guardians - those who keep the peace within Gilead. They work on checkpoints, for example.


See also: Dystopia

A revolution has taken place and the United States has become a nominally Christian theocracy, albeit one that does not appear to be modeled on any real Christian-majority society that has existed in history since the declining influence of the Catholic Church during and after the Inquisition. The US Constitution has been abrogated, and a new order has been established: the Republic of Gilead. Gilead is ruled through biblical fundamentalism and rigid enforcement of social roles vaguely resembling current Dominionist thinking. Most citizens have been stripped of their freedoms. The key to this suppression is the conscious elimination of literacy among the population. All religions, except the official state religion, have been suppressed. The novel indicates that Jews in Gilead were offered the chance to leave Gilead and go to Israel. However, it is later revealed that the boats carrying these people were sunk at some point after leaving port, leaving the people aboard them to drown. This article is about the philosophical concept and literary form. ... For other uses, see Revolution (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Christian (disambiguation). ... Forms of government Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      For the metal band, refer to Theocracy (band). ... This article is about the study of time in human terms. ... The name Catholic Church can mean a visible organization that refers to itself as Catholic, or the invisible Christian Church, viz. ... This article is about the Inquisition by the Roman Catholic Church. ... Page I of the Constitution of the United States of America Page II of the United States Constitution Page III of the United States Constitution Page IV of the United States Constitution The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America and is... The Gilead flag in the film The Republic of Gilead is a theocratic fictional country that is the setting of the Margaret Atwood dystopian novel The Handmaids Tale. ... This Gutenberg Bible is displayed by the United States Library. ... Look up fundamentalism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... This article is on the political-religious concept of dominionism. ... The word citizen may refer to: A person with a citizenship Citizen Watch Co. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... The traditional definition of literacy is considered to be the ability to read and write, or the ability to use language to read, write, listen, and speak. ...

Those who do not conform to the new norms, or who in the past became pregnant and did not immediately embrace the new ways are pressed into service as handmaids and personal servants or deported to "the colonies" (regions where pollution has reached toxic levels). All those who threaten the ideology of Gilead, and those who will not repent — political and religious dissidents, pro-choice advocates (called abortionists) and homosexuals (gender treachery) — are executed by hanging and displayed at "The Wall". The government has proclaimed martial law owing to the destabilizing effect of "hordes of guerrillas" roaming the countryside. This is reinforced by the roadblocks, sandbags, and the sounds of gun and rocket fire that are mentioned repeatedly, yet almost glossed over by the characters, who seem to regard living in a war zone as normal. Air pollution Pollution is the introduction of pollutants (whether chemical substances, or energy such as noise, heat, or light) into the environment to such a point that its effects become harmful to human health, other living organisms, or the environment. ... // Toxic and Intoxicated redirect here – toxic has other uses, which can be found at Toxicity (disambiguation); for the state of being intoxicated by alcohol see Drunkenness. ... Political Ideologies Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      An ideology is an organized collection of ideas. ... An abortion is the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus from the uterus, resulting in or caused by its death. ... Homosexuality refers to sexual interaction and / or romantic attraction between individuals of the same sex. ... For other uses, see Martial law (disambiguation). ... “Guerrilla” redirects here. ... For other uses, see War (disambiguation). ...

The title character is a woman who had married a divorced man before the revolution. As divorces have all been retroactively declared void, she is designated an adulteress and faced with exile to the colonies unless she becomes a handmaid. She has proved her fertility by giving birth to a daughter who survived infancy. Divorce or dissolution of marriage is the ending of a marriage before the death of either spouse. ... This article is about the act of adultery. ... Exile (band) may refer to: Exile - The American country music band Exile - The Japanese pop music band Category: ... Fertility is the natural capability of giving life. ...

The handmaids are women modeled after Zilpah and Bilhah in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, the slaves of the patriarch Jacob's wives Rachel and Leah. When the wives could not conceive, each of them had her handmaid couple with the husband to have children on their behalf. Like the biblical handmaids, the title character must have ritualized and unemotional sexual intercourse with a man, with his wife holding her hands. Sexual satisfaction is forbidden. If a child is produced, it will be considered the offspring of the man and his wife. In the Book of Genesis, Zilpah (זִלְפָּה Drooping, Standard Hebrew Zilpa, Tiberian Hebrew Zilpāh) is a concubine of Jacob and the mother of Gad and Asher. ... In the Book of Genesis, Bilhah (בִּלְהָה Faltering; bashful, Standard Hebrew Bilha, Tiberian Hebrew Bilhāh) is a concubine of Jacob, and bears him two sons, Dan and Naphtali. ... Note: Judaism commonly uses the term Tanakh to refer to its canon, which corresponds to the Protestant Old Testament. ... The Bible (From Greek βιβλια—biblia, meaning books, which in turn is derived from βυβλος—byblos meaning papyrus, from the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos which exported papyrus) is the sacred scripture of Christianity. ... This article is about Jacob in the Hebrew Bible. ... This article is about the Biblical character. ... Look up Leah, לֵאָה in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

Subjugation of women

In Gilead, women are stripped of their independence through the reversal of feminist accomplishments. They are no longer allowed to hold property, arrange their own affairs, make reproductive choices, read, wear make-up, control money, or choose their clothes. Women are segregated into categories, and dressed according to their social functions. Feminists redirects here. ... Reading is a process of retrieving and comprehending some form of stored information or ideas. ... Cosmetics or makeup are substances to enhance the beauty of the human body, apart from simple cleaning. ... For other uses, see Money (disambiguation). ... (See also List of types of clothing) Introduction Humans often wear articles of clothing (also known as dress, garments or attire) on the body (for the alternative, see nudity). ...

Seven legitimate categories (Wives, Daughters, Widows, Aunts, Marthas, Handmaids and Econowives), and two illegitimate functional categories (Unwomen and, secretly, prostitutes), are mentioned in the novel.

Socially accepted and promoted categories of women in Gilead

White women seem to be the default in the Gilead society. In the novel, the main non-white ethnic group mentioned are Blacks. Blacks are labeled as Children of Ham while Jews are called Sons of Jacob. It is an underpinning assumption of the book that the reproductive value of white women in the United States (Gilead) is privileged over that of others. Women in Gilead 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). For other uses, see Society (disambiguation). ... Hamitic is an obsolete ethno-linguistic classification of some ethnic groups within the Afroasiatic (previously termed Semito-Hamitic) language family. ... In rhetoric and cognitive linguistics, metonymy (in Greek μετά (meta) = after/later and όνομα (onoma) = name) (pronounced //) is the use of a single characteristic to identify a more complex entity. ...

  • Wives are at the top social level permitted to women. They are women married to the higher ranking functionaries in the new military dictatorship. They are often infertile for unknown reasons, but it is implied that it is due to ecological disasters and the effects of a bioweapon. Wives always wear blue dresses. After the death of her husband, a Wife becomes a Widow, and must dress in black.
  • Daughters are the natural or adopted children of Wives. They wear white until marriage (it is mentioned in the book that some of the daughters were being wed at no older than 14, although this is not a set age). The narrator's daughter has been adopted by an infertile Wife.
  • Aunts train and monitor the Handmaids. In return they receive—relatively speaking—a degree of personal autonomy. It is implied that they do the dirty work of the men running Gilead—being an aunt is the only way these unmarried, infertile women may have any autonomy. They appear to take out their anger on the fertile women who are their charges. Aunts dress in brown.
  • Handmaids are fertile women whose social function is to bear children for the Wives. Handmaids are subjected to a monthly reproductive ritual derived from the biblical story of Rachel and Leah's reproductive competition (Genesis 29:31–35; 30:1–24). Handmaids dress in a pink habit with a white head-dress that obscures their peripheral vision. The Aunt system produces Handmaids, by reeducating fertile women who have broken Gileadean gender and social laws. Owing to the demands of Wives for fertile Handmaids, Gilead gradually increased the number of gender-crimes. The Aunt system attempts to promote the role of the Handmaid as an honourable one and seeks to legitimise it by removing any association with gender-criminality.
  • Marthas are older infertile women whose compliant nature and domestic skills recommend them to a life of domestic servitude in the houses of the elite. Marthas dress in green smocks. The title of "Martha" is based on the Gileadite reading of the incident recounted in Luke 10:38-42, where Jesus visits Mary, sister of Lazarus, and Martha; 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. Econowives are expected to perform all the female functions: domestic duties, companionship, child-bearing. The Econowife dress is multicoloured red, blue, and green to reflect these multiple roles.

The division of labour between women engenders some resentment between categories. Marthas, Wives and Econowives perceive Handmaids as sluttish, and Econowives resent their freedom from domestic work. A military dictatorship is a form of government wherein the political power resides with the military; it is similar but not identical to a stratocracy, a state ruled directly by the military. ... For the use of biological agents by terrorists, see bioterrorism. ... This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedias deletion policy. ... This article is about the Biblical character. ... Look up Leah, לֵאָה in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... For other uses, see Genesis (disambiguation). ... This article is about the color. ... This article is about the color. ... Peripheral vision is a part of vision that occurs outside the very center of gaze. ... This article needs to be wikified. ... “Natural” redirects here. ... A skill is an ability, usually learned and acquired through training, to perform actions which achieve a desired outcome. ... A servant is a person who is hired to provide regular household or other duties, and receives compensation. ... For other uses, see Elite (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Green (disambiguation). ... The Gospel of Luke (literally, according to Luke; Greek, Κατά Λουκαν, Kata Loukan) is a synoptic Gospel, and the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament. ... This article is about Jesus of Nazareth. ... Mary anoints Jesus feet in Bethany in this modern Greek icon. ... Mary anoints Jesus in Bethany in this icon. ...

Socially unacceptable categories of women in Gilead

Outside of mainstream society exist two further classes of women.

  • Unwomen: Unwomen are sterile women, widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns and politically dissident women confined to the Colonies (areas of both agricultural production and deadly pollution). Handmaids who fail to produce a child after three two year cycles are also sent here. Unwomen as a category embraces all women unable to fit within the Republic of Gilead's gender categories. Unlike members of society who transgress and break fundamental rules (who are murderously punished), unwomen are simply regarded as categorically incapable of social integration as their society rejects them utterly. Males who engage in homosexuality (or related acts) are declared Gender Traitors, and either executed or sent to the Colonies to die a slow death. All those banished to the colonies, men or women, wear grey dresses.
  • Jezebels or prostitutes: Informally, the desires of Commanders for mistresses and sexual variety has resulted in a collective form of prostitution available only to them. The women who populate this system are informally known as Jezebels. This category includes some lesbians and attractive, educated women who were unable to adjust to handmaid status. These women are housed in the remains of a hotel and are also used by Commanders to entertain foreign dignitaries. Jezebels dress in the remnants of sexualized costumes from "the time before" viz. cheerleaders' costumes, school uniforms, and Playboy Bunny costumes. While Jezebels have some degree of freedom in that they can wear make up, drink and socialize freely with men, they are still tightly controlled by Aunts. Once their usefulness for sex is over, they are also sent to the Colonies.

Feminists redirects here. ... This article is about homosexual women, not inhabitants of the Greek island of Lesbos A lesbian (lowercase L) is a homosexual woman. ... Homosexuality refers to sexual interaction and / or romantic attraction between individuals of the same sex. ... Achromatic redirects here. ... Whore redirects here. ... Jezebel (אִיזֶבֶל / אִיזָבֶל (not exalted) Standard Hebrew Izével/Izável, Tiberian Hebrew, ʾÎzéḇel / ʾÎzāḇel) is the name of two women in the Hebrew Bible. ... For other uses, see Hotel (disambiguation). ... Youth Cheerleaders during a football halftime show. ... Playboy Bunny at the Karma Foundation Inaugural Gala hosted at the Playboy Mansion, October 2005 A Playboy Bunny was a waitress at the Playboy Clubs (open 1960–1988). ...

"The Ceremony"

Human sexuality in Gilead is regulated by the notion that sexual coupling for pleasure 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 inflicted for lesser offences and capital punishment (sometimes inflicted by a group of Handmaids) for greater offences. This latter ritual, known as particicution, is also a means of allowing the Handmaids to let off steam, particularly when the condemned person is male. This article is about human sexual perceptions. ... Corporal punishment is forced pain intended to change a persons behaviour or to punish them. ... Capital punishment, or the death penalty, is the execution of a convicted criminal by the state as punishment for crimes known as capital crimes or capital offences. ...

"The Ceremony" is a non-marital sexual act sanctioned solely for the purpose of reproduction and unites Wives, Aunts, Marthas and Handmaids in an urgent mission. Sex acts that defile the Ceremony (for example, sexual contact with a Handmaid for pleasure) are punished with death. The sexual position of Econowives is inferred by references to Serena Joy's alienation from the world in which she was a "star," and by descriptions of wives who have been hung for various crimes. Though the narrator has little interaction with them, she is able to analyse what she perceives happening to them, and mourns that none of the various groups of women are able to empathize with the others. Women are taught to hate and fear other women. For other uses, see Death (disambiguation), Dead (disambiguation), Death (band) or Deceased (band). ... The Narrator is the entity within a story that tells the story to the reader. ...

The Ceremony re-enacts in rather literal fashion the biblical passage in which Jacob's infertile wife Rachel says to him "Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees" (Genesis 29:31–35; 30:1–24). The Gileadan variation on the passage has the Handmaid lying supine upon the Wife during the sex act itself. This article is about Jacob in the Hebrew Bible. ... This article is about the Biblical character. ... In the Book of Genesis, Bilhah (בִּלְהָה Faltering; bashful, Standard Hebrew Bilha, Tiberian Hebrew Bilhāh) is a concubine of Jacob, and bears him two sons, Dan and Naphtali. ...

Offred describes the ceremony n the following way.

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.
— Atwood, pg. 116

Once a Handmaid is pregnant, she is venerated by her peers and by the Wives. After the baby is born, it is given to the wife of her Commander, and she is reassigned to another household. The Handmaid's reward for giving birth is that she will never be sent to the Colonies, even if she does not conceive again. This suggests a reward within Gileadean society that gives some recompense for some women, however minimal. Atwood never explains what really happens to these women, but she does indicate that their reward is not what it seems to be. Moreover, these rewards may simply be a functional incentive for social cooperation, motivated more by a need to avoid disorder than by justice.

Owing to the ecological disasters, approximately one quarter of all surviving children born, have physical defects. It is hinted that a nuclear war has taken place, as major cities are mentioned as being contaminated, which may be a cause of the mass infertility and birth defects. Babies born with defects are taken by the government, after which they are never heard of again. They are described by the Handmaids as shredders, a dysphemism that implies their death – perhaps by euthanasia. During the course of the narrative, we are introduced to a number of pregnant Handmaids, yet we do not see a child who survives long after birth. We do not even know the fate of the child Offred is carrying by the end of the novel, presumably while she is making the tapes and waiting for rescue. Atwood's writing allows the reader to presume a happy ending or a less sanguine conclusion, based on the inability of the anthropologists to find any trace of Offred or her descendants. In language, both dysphemism (from the Greek “dys” δυς = non and “pheme” φήμη = speech) and cacophemism (in Greek “cacos” κακός = bad) refer to the usage of an intentionally harsh word or expression instead of a polite one; they are rough opposites of euphemism. ... For mercy killings not performed on humans, see animal euthanasia. ...

Pre-Gileadian society

The novel indicates that pre-Gileadian society was not a heaven for women. This society was late 20th century version of the United States as Atwood envisioned it developing at the time of its writing. In this society, women feared physical and sexual violence, and despite long-running feminist campaigns (approximately 19702000 within the text), they had not achieved equality. Feminist campaigners, particularly radicals like Moira and Offred's mother were persecuted by the state. In addition, mass commercialization of sexuality had occurred and prostitution 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 that encouraged serial monogamy in favour of men's social and sexual interests. For other uses, see Heaven (disambiguation). ... (19th century - 20th century - 21st century - more centuries) Decades: 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s As a means of recording the passage of time, the 20th century was that century which lasted from 1901–2000 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar (1900–1999... Year 1970 ([[Rf 1970 == January 1 - The Unix epoch begins at 00:00:00 UTC January 2 - The last studio performance of The Beatles oman numerals|MCMLXX]]) was a common year starting on Thursday (link shows full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 2000 (MM) was a leap year starting on Saturday (link will display full 2000 Gregorian calendar). ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ... Fast food is food cooked in bulk and in advance and kept warm, or reheated to order. ... This article primarily discusses philosophical ideologies in relation to the subject of romantic love. ... Serial polygamy is a form of marriage in which participants have more than one sexual partner in their lifetime (hence polygamy), but not at the same time (hence serial). ...

In pre-Gileadean society, despite holding a university degree from an unspecified North American university, Offred was a menial white collar worker. Offred's coworkers were all women, but her boss was a man. Aside from having had to cope with oppressive cultural and social phenomena, women lacked full and meaningful control over their economic lives. A degree is any of a wide range of status levels conferred by institutions of higher education, such as universities, normally as the result of successfully completing a program of study. ... White-collar workers perform tasks which are less laborious yet often more highly paid than blue-collar workers, who do manual work. ...

Also, a sharp decline in the birth rate is described as having occurred before the rise of Gilead, when Offred notes that the Red Center she is kept at prior to being assigned to a Commander was a high school in the former times that was closed due to a lack of high school age students. The low birth rate is hinted at as having been a partial cause for the revolution as well.

Social regulation of human sexuality

As the Commander explains it, the Gileadian elite has formulated an explanation for the failure of society in "the former times", viz. that women were too available to men. Men's ready sexual access to women led to violence, abuse, and a decrease of authentic feeling for them. The solution was to limit men's access to women until they have proved themselves in socio-ideological terms. Commander Fred sees no problem in the fact that women are treated as the property of men in both societies, in the former as individual property and in the latter as societal property. Fred also makes it clear that women are considered to be intellectually and emotionally inferior. They are not permitted to read and female children are not educated, in the belief that allowing women to become literate was a great mistake of the past. This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ...

Sumptuary laws

See also: Sumptuary law

The sumptuary laws of Gilead are complex. All lower status individuals are regulated by dress laws. Women, in particular, are divided into castes by their dress. Men too are regulated but equipped with military or paramilitary uniforms: constrained but also empowered. Only rare civilians (increasingly persecuted) and Commanders seem to be free of sumptuary restrictions. Sumptuary laws (from Latin sumptuariae leges) were laws that regulated and reinforced social hierarchies and morals through restrictions on clothing, food, and luxury expenditures. ... Caste systems are traditional, hereditary systems of social classification, that evolved due to the enormous diversity in India (where all three primary races met, not by forced slavery but by immigration). ... For other uses, see Uniform (disambiguation). ...

Those punished with death are dressed for the occasion: priests in long, forbidding robes and doctors in consulting gowns. Roman Catholic priest A priest or priestess is a holy man or woman who takes an officiating role in worship of any religion, with the distinguishing characteristic of offering sacrifices. ...

Biblical references

See also: Bible

The primary biblical reference in The Handmaid's Tale is to the story of Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29:31–35; 30:1–24). While Leah was fertile and was blessed by God, Rachel was barren, meaning she could not have children. Rachel proceeds to compete in producing sons for her husband, by using her handmaids as property. Rachel takes immediate possession of the children produced by her handmaids. In the context of Atwood's book, the story is one of female competition, jealousy, and reproductive cruelty. This Gutenberg Bible is displayed by the United States Library. ... This article is about the Biblical character. ... Look up Leah, לֵאָה in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... For other uses, see Genesis (disambiguation). ... Jealous redirects here. ...

A similar story also exists in Genesis, where Sarah is infertile, and Hagar conceives on Sarah's behalf. The Sarah and Hagar story is different from the Rachel and Leah story, mainly because of the active role played by Hagar, and Hagar's possession of her child. Sarah's fertility is restored by God at an advanced age. Atwood was aware of the similarity between these stories, and was using it to show the hypocrisy of Gileadean biblical interpretation: the biblical story showed a relationship between a wife and a handmaid which did not involve sexual and reproductive subjugation. Additionally, it was ultimately the choice of the wives in the Bible, whereas wives in Gilead (such as Serena Joy) are forced. For other uses, see Genesis (disambiguation). ... Engraving of Sarah by Hans Collaert from c. ... The dismissal of Hagar, 1612 by Pieter Pietersz Lastman Hagar (Hebrew הָגָר Stranger, Standard Hebrew Hagar, Tiberian Hebrew ; Arabic هاجر; Hagar), according to the Abrahamic faiths, was an Egyptian handmaiden (or slave-girl) of Sarah, wife of Abraham. ... This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and henotheism. ...

Key phrases

In The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood takes pains to emphasize the effect of changing context on behaviours and attitudes. A key phrase "context is all" (1996, pg.154, 202) is repeated throughout the novel. The Scrabble game, for example, illustrates her point, since Offred describes it as once "the game of old men and women" (1996, pg.149) but now forbidden and therefore "desirable" (1996, pg.149). Offred also perceives the world differently in a society that is morally rigid. Revealing clothes and make-up 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.

Social critique

Atwood's tale comprises of a number of social critiques.

It presents a dystopian vision of society in the United States in the period 19701985, particularly in the period of backlash against feminism. This critique is most clearly seen in both Offred's remembrance of the slow social transformation towards theocratic fascism and in the ideology of the Aunts. Year 1970 ([[Rf 1970 == January 1 - The Unix epoch begins at 00:00:00 UTC January 2 - The last studio performance of The Beatles oman numerals|MCMLXX]]) was a common year starting on Thursday (link shows full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... This article is about the year. ... Backlash has meaning in both socio-political and engineering contexts. ... Feminists redirects here. ... Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers individual and other societal interests subordinate to the interests of the state. ... Political Ideologies Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      An ideology is an organized collection of ideas. ...

Immediately following the overthrow of the government, but before the new order had completely changed things, women begin to lose whatever freedoms they had previously had. Offred describes the loss of her own bank account (it is transferred to her husband's control) and then her job, before she, her husband and her daughter attempt to flee. An "Aunt" describes women's right prior to the overthrow as "freedom to" (i.e., women having the freedom to do as they pleased), while the time after is described as "freedom from" (i.e., women being given the freedom from choice). Choice consists of the mental process of thinking involved with the process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them for action. ...

Atwood is also mocking those who talk of 'traditional values', for example, such leaders as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who suggested that women should return to being housewives. Atwood was eager to demonstrate that extremist views might result in fundamentalist totalitarianism. Serena Joy, formerly a television gospel singer and preacher of traditional values, has been forced to give up her career and is clearly not content. Her preaching has destroyed her own life. Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS (née Roberts; born 13 October 1925) served as British Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 until 1990, being the first and to date only woman to hold either post. ... Reagan redirects here. ... Forms of government Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      Totalitarianism is a term employed by some scientists, especially those in the field of comparative politics, to describe modern regimes in which the state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior. ...

However, Atwood also offers a critique of contemporary feminism. By working against pornography, feminists in the early 1980s opened themselves up to criticism that they favoured censorship. Anti-pornography feminist activists made alliances with the religious right, despite the denials of some feminists. (See Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon). Atwood warns that the consequences of such an alliance may end up empowering feminists' worst enemies. Atwood also suggests, through descriptions of the narrator's feminist mother burning books, that contemporary feminism was becoming overly rigid and adopting the same tactics as the religious right. Porn redirects here. ... The 1980s refers to the years from 1980 to 1989. ... For other uses, see Censor. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Andrea Dworkin speaking to a federal commission on pornography in New York in January 1986 Andrea Rita Dworkin (September 26, 1946 – April 9, 2005) was an American radical feminist and writer best known for her criticism of pornography, which she linked with rape and other forms of violence against women. ... Catherine MacKinnon Catharine Alice MacKinnon (born 7 October 1946) is an American feminist, scholar, lawyer, teacher, and activist. ...

Most notably, Atwood critiques modern, fundamentalist, religious movements, specifically fundamentalist Christianity in the United States, though there is a brief suggestion that she was also considering Iranian fundamentalist Islam. In the case of the United States, a religious revival in the mid-1970s seemed to remain influential in the early 1980s. Jimmy Carter, U.S. president during the period, had avowed his renewed and reaffirmed Christianity. Additionally, the religious right was growing through televangelism. Topics in Christianity Movements · Denominations · Other religions Ecumenism · Preaching · Prayer Music · Liturgy · Calendar Symbols · Art · Criticism Important figures Apostle Paul · Church Fathers Constantine · Athanasius · Augustine Anselm · Aquinas · Palamas · Luther Calvin · Wesley Arius · Marcion of Sinope Archbishop of Canterbury · Catholic Pope Coptic Pope · Ecumenical Patriarch Christianity Portal This box:      Christianity is... For people named Islam, see Islam (name). ... A Revival is the apparent restoration of a living creature from a dead state to a living state. ... The 1970s decade refers to the years from 1970 to 1979, also called The Seventies. ... For other persons named Jimmy Carter, see Jimmy Carter (disambiguation). ... For the pop band, see Presidents of the United States of America. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ...

In the book, Atwood pictures revivalism as a counter-revolutionary doctrine, opposed to the revolutionary doctrine espoused by Offred's mother and Moira, which sought to break down gender categories. A common Marxist historical reading of fascism states that fascism is the backlash of the right after a revolution has failed. Atwood explores this Marxist reading and translates its analysis into the structure of a religious and gender revolution. This is demonstrated in the quote "From each according to her ability… to each according to his needs" (1996, pg.127), a deliberate distortion of Marx's own phrase "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" — the latter (whilst using the pronoun 'him') represents an ideological statement on class and society; the former, a stance taken by Gileadian society towards gender roles. Marxism is the political practice and social theory based on the works of Karl Marx, a 19th century philosopher, economist, journalist, and revolutionary, along with Friedrich Engels. ... Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers individual and other societal interests subordinate to the interests of the state. ... From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs) is a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. ...


Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

A 1990 film adaptation of the novel was directed by Volker Schlöndorff. It starred Natasha Richardson (Offred), Faye Dunaway (Serena Joy), Robert Duvall (The Commander, Fred), Aidan Quinn (Nick), and Elizabeth McGovern (Moira). MGM released the film on DVD in 2001. The Handmaids Tale is a 1990 film adaptation of The Handmaids Tale (novel, Margaret Atwood) was directed by Volker Schlöndorff. ... Volker Schlondorff Volker Schlöndorff (born in Wiesbaden, Germany on March 31, 1939) is a Berlin-based German filmmaker. ... Natasha Jane Richardson (born May 11, 1963 in London), is a Tony Award-winning English actress and member of the Redgrave family, an enduring theatrical dynasty. ... Faye Dunaway (born January 14, 1941, in Bascom, Florida) is an Academy Award-winning American actress. ... Robert Selden Duvall (born January 5, 1931) is an Academy Award-, two-time Emmy Award-, and four-time Golden Globe Award-winning American film actor and director. ... Aidan Quinn (born March 8, 1959 Rockford, Illinois, USA) is an Irish-American actor. ... Elizabeth McGovern Elizabeth McGovern (born July 18, 1961) is an American movie and theater actress. ... MGM logo Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM, is a large media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of cinema and television programs. ... DVD (also known as Digital Versatile Disc or Digital Video Disc) is a popular optical disc storage media format. ...

A straight stage adaptation by Brendon Burns was toured by the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke, UK in 2002. , Basingstoke is a town in northeast Hampshire, UK. It lies across a valley at the source of the River Loddon. ...

There is also an opera, written by Poul Ruders, which premièred in Copenhagen on March 6, 2000. The Handmaids 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. ... Poul Ruders (born March 27, 1949 in Ringsted) is a Danish composer. ... For other uses, see Copenhagen (disambiguation). ... is the 65th day of the year (66th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 2000 (MM) was a leap year starting on Saturday (link will display full 2000 Gregorian calendar). ...

There is a full-cast dramatization, produced for BBC Radio 4 by the award-winning John Dryden in 2000. old Radio 4 logo BBC Radio 4 is a UK domestic radio station which broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes including news, drama, comedy, science and history. ...

See also

“If This Goes On—” is a science fiction short novel by Robert A. Heinlein, first serialized in 1940 in Astounding Science-Fiction and revised and expanded for inclusion in the 1953 collection Revolt in 2100. ... Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of hard science fiction. ... The Children of Men (1992) is a dystopian novel by P.D. James set in England in 2021, centering on the results of mass infertility. ... Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park OBE (born 3 August 1920) is an English writer of crime fiction and member of the House of Lords, who writes as P. D. James. ... Consider Her Ways is a science fiction short story (possibly a novella) by John Wyndham, regarded by some as his best short story. ... John Wyndham (July 10, 1903 – March 11, 1969) was the pen name used by the often post-apocalyptic British science fiction writer John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris. ... Native Tongue is the first novel in Suzette Haden Elgins feminist science fiction series of the same name. ... Suzette Haden Elgin is an American science fiction author. ... Numerous science fiction, utopian and dystopian novels revolve around sexual reproduction, pregnancy and infertility. ...


  1. ^ From the publisher: The Handmaid's Tale on RandomHouse.com
  2. ^ Summer Reading List, Watauga High School, NC
  3. ^ Reading List, Theodore Roosevelt High School, Kent, OH
  4. ^ ALA List of 100 challenged books
  5. ^ Miner, Madonne. 'Trust Me': Reading the Romance Plot in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Twentieth Century Literature. 1991; 37:148-168.

// Random House is a publishing house based in New York City. ...

External links

  • Analysis, background, themes and quizzes on The Handmaid's Tale.
  • The most honored novels: The Handmaid's Tale has received numerous honours and is near the top of the list.
  • An independent Wiki dealing with the analysis of the book only.
  • New York Times review. Mary McCarthy, 1986.
Preceded by
The Engineer of Human Souls
Governor General's Award for English language fiction recipient
Succeeded by
The Progress of Love

  Results from FactBites:
The Handmaid's Tale - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (3947 words)
The handmaids are women modeled after Zilpah and Bilha in the Bible, the slaves of the patriarch Jacob's wives Rachel and Leah.
Handmaids are fertile women whose social function is to bear children for the Wives.
In this respect The Handmaid's Tale is similar to Egalia's Daughters by Gerd Brantenberg, or God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert, and, to a different degree, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.
Free Essay The Handmaids Tale Essay (2816 words)
The novel focuses on one handmaid, Offred (she is given the name of the man whose children she is expected to bear--she is of Fred).
Although particular groups may find The Handmaid's Tale more enjoyable than others, the purpose of the novel is to enlighten the general population, as opposed to being a source of entertainment.
By the end of her tale, she has undergone so much treachery and loss of belief and trust that the likelihood of total mental, spiritual, and familial reclamation is slim.
  More results at FactBites »



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