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Caught up in a world of constant surveillance, strict regulation, and extreme punishment, the novel's protagonist, Offred , attempts to get through each day while holding on to the belief that she will someday be reunited with her husband and daughter. Atwood calls The Handmaid's Tale "speculative fiction", although the novel seems to possess many of the earmarks of true science fiction.

The Handmaid's Tale

Readers must deal with new vocabulary, such as "Pornomarts" and "Prayvaanzas"; there are recognizable categories and participants, but a new organization of power; the new world attempts to alter the relationships of society, but inevitably the relationships reemerge in fundamentally similar ways. Despite these flights of fancy, Atwood emphasizes that she tried to limit the ideas and practices in The Handmaid's Tale to those that have occurred somewhere in the world at some time. For example, she used a great many elements of early American life in Massachusetts.

She points out that the Puritans had a theocratic government that was highly intolerant of divisions. Of course, one sees similarities between the costumes of the Handmaids and the traditional clothing of Muslim women in the Middle East.


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Polygamy has been practiced by numerous cultures throughout the world, and is predominantly found in those with large disparities between the upper and lower classes. In most of these cultures, the first wife has a tremendous amount of power over the other wives, often to the point where she is permitted to take their children and raise them as her own.

Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (Reader's Guides) Gina Wisker: Continuum

Military dictatorships have often been characterized by constant surveillance of a society for acts of disloyalty and repeated purges and re-organizations of the government. Atwood has stated in a number of interviews that this novel was a response to many ideas currently in vogue in society, and was merely following those ideas to what seemed to her to be their inevitable conclusions. One of the ideas that clearly plays a crucial role in The Handmaid's Tale is the importance of understanding and respecting the environment.

In Atwood's world, chemicals, pollution, and wars have made much of the country entirely unlivable.

The Handmaid's Tale Study Guide

Not only has the land itself been destroyed, but human beings have been so damaged by the pollutants and chemicals introduced into the air and water that only one in four babies are born healthy enough to survive for even a short time. Though Gilead still possesses the basic trappings of industrialization - electric lights, flush toilets, cars, etc. What does the book's last line mean to you? The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Resistance: female voices and memories

The Book Report Network. Skip to main content. Reading Group Guide.

The novel begins with three epigraphs. What are their functions? Why is the Bible under lock and key in Gilead? Acknowledgements Quotations and Abbreviations 1.

About Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

Context 2. Overview of Themes 3. Reading The Handmaid's Tale 4. Reception and Influence 5.


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Guide to Further Reading Index. Storytelling, different forms of narrative practice and the construction of history, are some of the many topics it treats that receive discussion in the Guide. Wisker perceptively investigates the s context in which Atwood wrote the novel, while commenting knowledgeably on its socio-political importance to the present-day.