The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the theocratic-totalitarian state that used to be the United States. Handmaids are women that are assigned to live with a commander and his wife. The Handmaids are forced to carry out two jobs: shopping and having meaningless sex with the commanders. After all of the chemical spills in the United States, fertility rates decreased, so handmaids are only used for having children. If they do not have children, then they are sent away to either clean up the chemical spills or be killed. Handmaid’s names consist of the word “of” followed by the commander’s name to show who each handmaid belongs to. The main character’s name is Offred- Of Fred.
Before the theocratic-militaristic group took over the United States, Offred lived a normal life. She had a relationship with a previously married man named Luke, and together they had a kid. Offred often remembers her mom and best friend, Moira, as being strong and independent women. Her mom was a single mom and feminist activist, while Moira was an independent lesbian woman. About four years after Luke and Offred's marriage, pollution and chemical spills start to lower fertility rates. Around this time, the military group assassinated the President and all of congress, and declared that the constitution would be suspended temporarily while they tried to reorganize and “fix” the government. This new government slowly started to take more and more rights away from women, like not allowing women to have access to their own money or hold jobs. Offred and Luke decide to quietly run away to Canada with their daughter, but right before the border, they are caught and separated. Offred has not seen Luke or her child since then but often thinks about them in her new life.
After Offred was captured, she was sent to the Red-Center to be taught all of Gilead’s views on how women should live their lives and how they should interact with men. Shortly after she is taken to the Red-Center, her friend Moira is brought in. Moira can’t stand being confined and told what to do so she escapes by attacking one of the women in charge (one of the Aunts), and taking her clothes so no one will recognize her as she walked out the front door. After her time at the Red-Center, Offred is sent to live with the commander and his wife Serena Joy. Serena doesn’t like Offred because she knows she will have to have sex with her husband. Although Offred is uncomfortable in her new life, she knows she must adapt to survive. She is allowed out of the house once a week to go on short shopping trips with her shopping partner Ofglen, and no matter what the weather is like, the handmaids must wear long red dresses that covers the entire body and a white hat that covers the face. Offred and Ofglen are not allowed to talk to each other on their trips except for using the “proper” pre-approved greetings. One day, Offred gets a mysterious message from the commander’s chauffeur Nick. Nick tells her that the commander wants to have a secret meeting with Offred. Offred knows how dangerous this is, because if she gets caught, she could be sent away to the colonies and work as an “Unwoman” and clean up the chemical spills. Despite this possibility, Offred goes to meet with the commander, and when she gets to his office, he asks her to play Scrabble with him. Even playing Scrabble is against the law because women are not even allowed to read. After she leaves, he asks her to kiss him and she does. Once every week, Offred goes to the commander’s office to play Scrabble with him and then gives him a kiss at the end of each night.
One day, Serena Joy asks Offred to have sex with Nick because she thinks the commander is infertile. She tells Offred to pretend that the baby is the commander’s child. Offred agrees to have sex with Nick later that night. That night, Offred is summoned to the commander’s office, where he asks Offred to go to an underground strip club with him. When the two get to the club, Offred sees Moira working there. Moira tells her that the club is where the commanders go after work to have sex with the women working there. Offred ends up going into a room with the commander at the club and having sex with him. When Offred gets home she meets with Nick and they also have sex. Nick and Offred agree to meet whenever they can to have sex, but Serena catches the two together and I won't reveal the end of the story so anyone who wants to read the book can. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes suspense stories because little bits of the story are given at a time so you have to piece it together yourself.
1. Why do you think the author chose to make Gilead in the future, and do you think it's possible that Gilead could ever really happen in the United States?
2. How would you feel if you were forced to live this kind of life (being forced to have sex with men you didn't know and having no real freedoms)?
3. Do you think it's possible to make a "perfect society"?