Chapter 22

Moira becomes a symbol of rebellion and resistance.  What qualities does her escape demonstrate she possesses?

How do the handmaids view Moira? Read the description on page 143 from “Moira was out there somewhere….” to the end of the page.  Offred likens Moira to the following: an explosion; an elevator with open sides; lava beneath the crust of daily life.  Look again at the prose and explain what the language suggests about Moira and the handmaids’ perception of her.

CHAPTER 23

Offred talks about this account being a ‘reconstruction’ which includes things that may not have happened or may not ever happen.  She reflects on the accuracy of her account and speaks directly to her audience about the role of forgiveness as a kind of power.

When I get out of here, if I’m ever able to set this down, in any form, even in the form of one voice to another, it will be a reconstruction then too, at yet another remove.  It’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances, too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavours, in the air or on the tongue, half-colours, too many.  But if you happen to be a man, sometime in the future, and you’ve made it this far, please remember: you will never be subjected to the temptation of feeling you must forgive, a man, as a woman.  It’s difficult to resits, believe me. But remember that forgiveness too is a power.  To beg for it is a power, and to withold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.

Maybe none of this is about control.  Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death.  Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open.  Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it.  Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: chapters 13-21

CHAPTERS 13-15

  • Gilead turns women against women – consider the response to Janine’s story and explain how they respond. Why do the women respond in this way?
  • What does Offred’s admission, ‘We meant it, which was the bad part’ suggest about the power of ideology?
  • The bath scene allows us to view Offred’s relationship with her body and how she sees it. What has changed?  How is language used to evoke a sense of territory and ownership?
  • To sustain her – to endure the present – Offred recalls the past. Which memories satisfy the following yearnings in Offred?

Need for friendship

Need for family

Need for children

Need for romantic love

  • A newscaster makes reference to the ‘Children of Ham’ and their resettlement.  What read world events does this echo and what does it suggest about the ideologies adopted by Gilead?
  • The Bible reading justifies the use of Handmaids.  The leaders claim the tradition is Biblically sanctioned.  What is Atwood suggesting about the concept of ‘new’ ideas?

 

CHAPTERS 16-21

The Ceremony (re-read chapter 16)

  1. Which word or words listed below best describe the Ceremony in your opinion? Find at least three quotations to support your view.

Ridiculous, horrifying, funny, shocking, ironic, sad, surreal

2. Compare this description of sex with other descriptions of sex in the novel (with Luke; with Nick; with others).  What has sex become for those involved in the Ceremony?

3.  Why does Offred feel she can’t call the act ‘rape’?  How are we positioned by the writing to view her response?

4.  At the end of the chapter, Offred asks ‘Which of us is it worse for, her or me?’  How would you answer this question?

5.  An imminent birth, like Ofwarren’s, is greeted with a mixture of fear and joy.  Find evidence for this and explain why this reaction is so.

6.  What is the intended effect of the State labeling some people ‘unwomen’?

7.  The aunts appear to recognise many of the issues that the feminists had with society and the dangers facing women.  Find evidence of this and explain how the ideas of the women’s movement have been peverted by the state to justify the current restrictions on women’s lives.

The Handmaid’s Tale – articles from academic journals

These links have been copied from the database Bloom’s Literary Reference Online which you can access and search from the homepage for English in our libguides. The longer and more comprehensive essays are towards the end of the list.

The Handmaid’s Tale.  Source: Encyclopedia of the British Novel, 2-Volume Set, Second Edition
The Handmaid’s Tale.   Sova, Dawn B. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds, Third Edition , Facts On File, 2011. Bloom’s Literature
The Handmaid’s Tale. Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature, Second Edition, Facts On File, 2014. Bloom’s Literature
The Handmaid’s Tale. 
Burt, Daniel S. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Novel 100, Revised Edition, Facts On File, 2010. Bloom’s Literature
The Handmaid’s Tale. 
Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature, Second Edition
The Handmaid’s Tale
Bloom, Harold. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Handmaid’s Tale, Chelsea House, 2003. Bloom’s Literature
Background to The Handmaid’s Tale Bloom, Harold. “Background to The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Handmaid’s Tale, Chelsea House, 2003. Bloom’s Literature
Censorship history of The Handmaid’s Tale. Sova, Dawn B. “Censorship History of The Handmaid’s Tale.” Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds, Third Edition , Facts On File, 2011. Bloom’s Literature
Gender in The Handmaid’s Tale. Croisy, Sophie. “Gender in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature
Heroism in The Handmaid’s Tale. Croisy, Sophie. “Heroism in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature
Oppression in The Handmaid’s Tale. Croisy, Sophie. “Oppression in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature
Serena Joy.  Bloom, Harold. “Serena Joy.” The Handmaid’s Tale, Chelsea House, 2003. Bloom’s Literature
Utopian fiction. Brackett, Virginia. “Utopian Fiction.” Encyclopedia of the British Novel, 2-Volume Set, Second Edition
Bloom on The Handmaid’s Tale. Bloom, Harold. “Bloom on The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2001. Bloom’s Literature.
The Handmaid’s Tale:
Dystopia and the Paradoxes of Power. Deer, Glenn. “The Handmaid’s Tale: Dystopia and the Paradoxes of Power.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
Future Tense: Making history in The Handmaid’s Tale. Davidson, Arnold E. “Future Tense: Making History in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
Margaret Atwood’s Modest Proposal: The Handmaid’s Tale. Stein, Karen. “Margaret Atwood’s Modest Proposal: The Handmaid’s Tale.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
Bradbury and Atwood: Exile as Rational Decision. Wood, Diane S. “Bradbury and Atwood: Exile as Rational Decision.” Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2008. Bloom’s Literature.
Alias Atwood: Narrative Games and Gender Politics. Rigney, Barbara Hill. “Alias Atwood: Narrative Games and Gender Politics.” Margaret Atwood, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2008. Bloom’s Literature.
On the Border: Margaret Atwood’s Novels. Palumbo, Alice M. “On the Border: Margaret Atwood’s Novels.” Margaret Atwood, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2008. Bloom’s Literature.
Margaret Atwood and the Politics of Narrative. Kolodny, Annette. “Margaret Atwood and the Politics of Narrative.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
Atwood on Women, War and History: “The Loneliness of the Military Historian”. Brownley, Martine Watson. “Atwood on Women, War, and History: “The Loneliness of the Military Historian”” Margaret Atwood, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2008. Bloom’s Literature.
Science for Feminists: Margaret Atwood’s Body of Knowledge. Deery, June. “Science for Feminists: Margaret Atwood’s Body of Knowledge.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
You Are What You Eat: The Politics of Eating in the Novels of Margaret Atwood. Parker, Emma. “You Are What You Eat: The Politics of Eating in the Novels of Margaret Atwood.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.