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.


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.


The Handmaid’s Tale: chapters 13-21


  • 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?



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.

Theme Tracking: Points and Threads


Looking at the play and the novel through a particular theme will uncover some interesting points of comparison and contrast between the two texts.  Follow the thread you have chosen (or been assigned) and see how far it takes you.

  • Consider what characters embody the ideas of your theme;
  • Consider which symbols and motifs are used by the writers to explore an idea;
  • Remember that you will need to explain the nature of ideas at play in the texts;
  • Challenge yourself as you interpret the text;  ask: what does this suggest?
  • Consider what Atwood or Miller is suggesting about what it means to be human.


Part 1: Individual Investigation – make a set of notes of your observations across both texts as a starting point.  (DUE: Friday 25 August)

Stage 2: Paired Sharing – combine your work with your partner and add to your notes.  Challenge yourselves to investigate further; interrogate the text. (DUE: Friday 1 September)

Stage 3: Group Sharing  – you will be placed in a group of 6-8 (a mix of themes) to share your ideas and add even more detail to your notes.  You will have to come up with some essay topics to help students grapple with the complexity of both texts. (DUE: TBA)

Stage 4: Class Sharing – expect to have to present (Powerpoint Karaoke style) your understanding of the text at any given time. (DUE: TBA)

Check the following table to note your partner.  It would be most useful if you could sit together in class so that you may share as you make observations.

Sex and Sexuality
Theocracy and Social Hierarchy Maharshi, Yasith
Love and Connection Huy, Jimmy
Truth and Confession  Jeremy, Corey, Anton
Fear and Hatred John, Charlie
Freedom and Oppression Hrishikesh, Eddie
Community versus the Individual Finley, Meth
Self-Interest and Self-Sacrifice Nathan, Josiah
Identity and Reputation Bill, Wayne
Authority and Control Shiv, Liang
Religion and Ritual Vadim, Mark
Courage and Resistance Ian, Aditya
Morality and Conscience Zi Li, James






Confession: Truth and Lies

The Innocence Project in the US works on cases of alleged wrongful conviction and imprisonment.  They point out how easily confessions can be contaminated.

The following information comes from their website:

Astonishingly, more than 1 out of 4 people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement.

Why do innocent people confess?

The reasons that people falsely confess are complex and varied, but what they tend to have in common is a belief that complying with the police by saying that they committed the crime in question will be more beneficial than continuing to maintain their innocence.

The factors that can contribute to a false confession during a police interrogation include:

  • duress
  • coercion
  • intoxication
  • diminished capacity
  • mental impairment
  • ignorance of the law
  • fear of violence
  • the actual infliction of harm
  • the threat of a harsh sentence
  • misunderstanding the situation

Confessions obtained from juveniles are often unreliable — children can be easy to manipulate and are not always fully aware of their situation.

People with mental disabilities have often falsely confessed because they are tempted to accommodate and agree with authority figures. Further, many law enforcement interrogators are not given any special training on questioning suspects with mental disabilities. An impaired mental state due to mental illness, drugs or alcohol may also elicit false admissions of guilt.

Mentally capable adults also give false confessions due to a variety of factors like the length of interrogation, exhaustion or a belief that they can be released after confessing and prove their innocence later.

From threats to torture

Sometimes law enforcement use harsh interrogation tactics with uncooperative suspects. But some police officers, convinced of a suspect’s guilt, occasionally use tactics so persuasive that an innocent person feels compelled to confess. For instance, it is perfectly legal for law enforcement to employ deception or trickery in the interrogation room. Some suspects are untruthfully told that there is already evidence pointing to their guilt, such as a forensic test that links the suspect to the crime. Some suspects have confessed to avoid physical harm or discomfort. Others are told they will be convicted with or without a confession and that their sentence will be more lenient if they confess. Some are told a confession is the only way to avoid the death penalty. These tactics can be persuasive in eliciting a false confession.



Exorcisms Today

So you want to keep up with the times?  Or would you prefer to return to ‘traditional times’?  Either way, it appears exorcisms hold a lasting appeal for some.


Read Peter Munro’s article ‘Defeating the Devil: Why Exorcism in Australia is on the Rise’ for a fascinating look at exorcism in Australia.  What parallels can you see between this article – the claims of those who believe in exorcism and the views held by the Salem community in ‘The Crucible’?

Only last week national newspapers in the UK pointed out the alarming rise in exorcisms.


The Handmaid’s Tale: Introducing Serena Joy

THE HANDMAID’S TALE: Introducing Serena Joy

Your task is to carefully complete a set of notes on your ‘OFFRED & SERENA JOY’ page

Look carefully at how Atwood sets up the Commander’s Wife

Re-read Chapter 3 (pp. 22-26)

Re-read pp. 55-57

Watch the footage of Tammy Bakker (see blog post called Serena Joy)

You should take note of any symbols or motifs which are use.  Don’t forget the references to flowers – some specific ones are mentioned.  You are trying to comment on the significance (try to ask AND answer the question: ‘What does this suggest?).    You should capture quotations that embody something of their characters.  Try to comment on the nature of the Wife/Handmaid relationship.  Try to comment on what you perceive is the experience of Serena Joy in the time before and in the establishment of Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Freedom and Oppression in Chapters 4, 5, 6

The Handmaid’s Tale: Freedom and Oppression (chapters 4,  5 & 6)
Consider the differences we have been thinking about between status, authority, power and agency  and how we go explaining the nature of individuals and their relationships to others.  Try to get into the realm of expressing the feelings Offred has (clue: they are complex!). Do not try to answer these questions without first re-reading the text.

Re-read pp. 31-32 to the end of the chapter and respond in fully formed paragraphs incorporating evidence to the following questions:

1.  What are the “tiny peepholes” and their significance to Offred?
2.  What does Offred mean when she says: “Nobody’s heart is perfect.” Why do you think she thinks this?
3.  What is the nature the power dynamic between Offred and the young Guardians?


Re-read Chapter 5 and collect at least four quotations about the nature of freedom and four about the restrictions of Gilead – put these in your Red or Dead booklet in the appropriate section.  Comment on the language and what it suggests.  Look out for the Red Centre propaganda.


Answer the following questions in paragraphs:
1.  What does Offred mean by ” We have learned to see the world in gasps”?
2.  Re-read page 42 and the description of the bodies hanging on the wall, paying careful attention to Atwood’s figurative language here.  Her similes and metaphors are designed to horrify.  Which turns of phrase do this best, in your opinion?  What does Offred’s language tell you about her emotional state?
3. Read the paragraph that begins “I look at the one red smile.” to “…in my own mind.”  What do you think is going on here?