Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Handmaid's Tale By Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale, is a story about a handmaid named Offred in the Republic of Gilead, a theocratic state that has replaced the United States of America. In this future nation, the reproduction rate has decreased significantly because of pollution and radiation. In order to increase the reproduction rate, the leaders of Gilead order women to bear children for powerful families that could not bear children of their own, like the handmaids in the Bible did for their masters. The rights of all women, not only the handmaids, are restricted. They cannot hold jobs, have their own money, and even reading and writing is forbidden. The rules for the handmaids are even more restricted. They can only leave the house on their daily shopping trips, and they must speak to one another in either the "appropriate" greetings or in a hushed whisper when no one is around. The handmaid's names consist of the word "Of" and then their Commander's first name, making it so the handmaids don't even own themselves. Offred's story is a mix of present day actions and flashbacks. While telling her daily activities, she slips into flashbacks that tell the events leading up to the story. She explains how The Republic of Gilead came to power. Using the military, the founders of Gilead killed the president and the congress on the same day. They claimed they were taking power temporarily but they seeon suspend the Constitution and take away women's rights. The reader learns that Offred was married to a man named Luke, and they had a child together. Her family tried to escape over the border to Canada, but they were caught anf she hasn't seen her husband or daughter since. After she was captured she was taken to the Rachel and Leah Re-Education Center, in order to learn how to be a handmaid. At the center, the handmaids in training are told that a woman's main purpose is to bear children. Offred's best friend Moria is also brought to the center, but she escapes and Offred doesn't know what happened to her. Offred is assigned to the Commander's house, and settles into a routine. She takes her shopping trips with another handmaid named Ofglen, and does the "Ceremony" with the Commander and his wife Serena Joy. During the "Ceremony", Offred and the other household members are read the Bible by the Commander. Then Offred must go to the Commander's bedroom and have sex with him while lying in Serena's lap. Every month, Offred must visit the doctor and be checked for any problems. During one of her visits, the doctor offers to have sex with Offred to get her pregnant, saying that the Commander may be infertile. Offred refuses because she believes it is too risky. After a "Ceremony", the Commander's gardener and chauffer Nick, finds Offred at night and tells her the Commander wants her to come to his office the next night. Her visits become part of she routine. During her visits they talk, play Scrabble, and he allows her to read. At the end of each visit, she must give him a goodbye kiss. Time passes and Offred isn't getting pregnant. Serena suggests that Offred should have sex with Nick to get pregnant, and then they can pretend the baby is the Commander's. Serena schedules a meeting between Nick and Offred. On the night of the meeting, the Commander surprises Offred by sneaking her out and into a club called Jezebel's. Jezebel's is a club where the Commanders meet with prostitutes. While at the club Offred sees Moria, and they secretly meet in a bathroom. Moria fills Offred in on her escape. She was caught just before making it over the border. After the night at Jezebel's, Offred never sees Moria again. Soon after she returns to the Commander's house, Serena get her and takes her to Nick's room. Offred and Nick sleep together. Then Offred begins to meet with Nick regularlt without anyone knowing. She finds out that Ofglen is part of an underground orgainization called "Mayday" that is trying to overthrow Gilead. Offred gets so caught up in her and Nick's relationship, that she ignores Ofglen's request for information from the Commander. One day, Offred meets a new Ofglen for their shopping trip. The new Ofglen is not part of "Mayday" and tells Offred that the old Ofglen had hung herself when she saw the Eyes, Gilead's secret police, coming for her. When Offred returns from her shopping trip, Serena confronts her about the night at Jezebel's. She sends Offred to her room promising punishment. Offred watches out the window as one of the Eye's vans pulls up the driveway. What will happen to Offred? You'll have to read to find out.

  1. The secret organization "Mayday" sneaks many people to safe houses, and then over the border to Canada. How is this similar to the Underground Railroad?

  2. What do you think Margaret Atwood is trying to say through her novel The Handmaid's Tale? Is it too late to change? Explain.


LeahS11-12 said...

1. The secret organization "Mayday" is similar to the Underground railroad because the underground railroad helped blacks to cross over the border to the north and escape to a better and safer life just like the "Mayday" organization helps the handmaids to cross the border to Canada and gain freedom from the theocracy.

JessieW 11-12 said...

I agree completely. The handmaids are "slaves" to the government in The Republic of Gilead, like the african americans were slaves to the people. Both organizations help them get to a better life.

JessieW 11-12 said...

Margaret Atwood creates a world where the line between church and state doesn't exist. She shows what happens when this line disappears. People's rights disappear, and the Bible is basically the new constitution.

Mrs. Sherwood said...

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