Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Image result for the handmaid's tale

Meeting Date: May 3, 2017

Time and Where: 7:45 am in the Library! 

Please answer the discussion questions when posted! 

Published by: Elizabeth Barnes

From Goodreads: 

"The Handmaid's Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now..."

Link to watch the trailer:

Please answer each question individually in the comment section, numbering the questions.

Discussion Questions

The Handmaid's Tale

1. The novel begins with three epigraphs. What are their functions?
2. In Gilead, women are categorized as wives, handmaids, Marthas, or Aunts, but Moira refuses to fit into a niche. Offred says she was like an elevator with open sides who made them dizzy, she was their fantasy. Trace Moira's role throughout the tale to determine what she symbolizes.
3. Aunt Lydia, Janine, and Offred's mother also represent more than themselves. What do each of their characters connote? What do the style and color of their clothes symbolize?
4. At one level, The Handmaid's Tale is about the writing process. Atwood cleverly weaves this sub-plot into a major focus with remarks by Offred such as "Context is all," and "I've filled it out for her...," "I made that up," and "I wish this story were different." Does Offred's habit of talking about the process of storytelling make it easier or more difficult for you to suspend disbelief?
5. A palimpsest is a medieval parchment that scribes attempted to scrape clean and use again, though they were unable to obliterate all traces of the original. How does the new republic of Gilead's social order often resemble a palimpsest?.
6. The commander in the novel says you can't cheat nature. How do characters find ways to follow their natural instinct?
7. Why is the Bible under lock and key in Gilead?
8. Babies are referred to as "a keeper," "unbabies," "shredders." What other real or fictional worlds do these terms suggest?
9. Atwood's title brings to mind titles from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Why might Atwood have wanted you to make that connection?
10. What do you feel the historical notes at the book's end add to the reading of this novel? What does the book's last line mean to you?


Elizabeth Barnes said...

1.) The functions of the three epigraphs were confusing to me at first, but then I did some digging. An epigraph is a sentence, sometimes a quotation from another piece of literature that is set in the beginning of a novel. The function of the epigraph is to introduce the reader in this case readers to the themes of the text they are about to read.

There are THREE epigraphs:

1. The first comes from Genesis 30:1-3 and refers to the practice of ancient Hebrew male to get their slaves pregnant if their wives were not fertile.

2. The second epigraph is from Jonathan Swift's satire "A Modest Proposal" (1729). In this famous piece, Swift suggests that, to solve the problem of poverty, starvation and overpopulation that were affecting Ireland at the time he was writing, the Irish could eat their own children or sell them. Like "The Handmaids Tale" this second epigraph is concerned with children.

3. Finally,the third epigraph is a Sufi proverb. Sufism is an oriental philosophy that argues for a less wordly Islam. The application of the proverb to the novel puzzles me and I think should be debated. What Atwood seems to be getting at here is that when something is obviously wrong (such as eating stones or breeding women), we shouldn't need signs or laws prohibiting it.

Elizabeth Barnes said...

2.) Moira's character was like a rebel without a cause. She is a fighter, leader, and a fury-filled dynamo. Which makes the fact that she is eventually tamed by the terrifying society of Gilead even more tragic. After ordinary life is destroyed, the main character loses everything. (Husband, daughter, mother). The one person who she ever sees from her old life again is Moira, her best friend. After her escape, Moira provides the other women with a sense of fantasy and dread. While they are being brainwashed by the Center, and starting to feel comfortable, Moira never does, she is never willing to give up her freedom. Rembering her friends story gives the narrator hope and makes her life a little more bearable. This is why I think it is so awful to find Moira working at Jezebel's and learn that Gilead has finally managed to beat her. Moira's fate, unfortunately, remains unresolved. When we last saw her, she was still working at Jezebel's.

Elizabeth Barnes said...

3.) Aunt Lydia has to be one of the most unlikable characters I have ever came across. I despise her for the fact that she is a woman.... and yet seems totally happy to be an agent of a republic that is organized around the repression of ALL women! Who in their right mind does that? Her words shape the manipulation and brainwashing at the Center, leads the women remaking themselves as handmaids, and twists biblical passages to provide justification for their new lifestyle.

Janine shows up in Offred's life during and after her time at the Center, and doesn't seem to have any friends. While Offred knows Janine from the Center, the first time we meet her properly in the book is in her new role as Ofwarren, when she shows off her pregnant belly. The last time Offred sees Janine is at the Particiution, where she has become completely unhingew. Janine can't handle her new reality, so she checks out. Instead of sympathizing her, Offred is disgusted. I can't say that I blame Offred too much for her reaction.

Offred's mother, throughout the novel had been remembered through memories. She is more of a figurehead than a character. Her mother was a hardcore feminist and protester, someone who stood up for women's rights and participated in rabble-rousing events like the burning of porn. Some people in our society may think she was unfit. She has Offred later in life and raised her as a single mom. Offred is relieved at first when she finds out her mother is still alive. But, later wishes she was dead because she is living in the colonies which is like a death sentence.

Elizabeth Barnes said...

4.) Atwood's writing in this novel is very blunt and unique. It can be "hot and cold" and sometimes "black and white." But, the society in the novel is FAR from normal so I was not surprised how Atwood went about the writing process. Even though Offred speaks plainly and bluntly throughout the novel, most of the time her words seem to obscure what actually happened. The contrast between what's being revealed and what's being hidden is emphasized between what characters say and what they are actually thinking.

Elizabeth Barnes said...

5.) This question also was confusing to me, so I had to do some more digging. What I found was very interesting. In the Novel, we can see that the Republic of Gilead resembles a palimpest. First of all, Offred is constantly comparing the past to the present. At the beginning of the novel, Offred describes the gymnasium in which she used to sleep along with the other handmaids. Although this room is now designated for sleeping, it still contains old basketball hoops and the floors still have painted lines and circles for old games. This pattern continues throughout the novel. Many of the stores are also layered like other things in the town. It is clear that through the past for the most part is "erased", it is important to others because of the presence of the black market. Example: Magazines and cigarettes. All items obtained from the black market were banned for one reason or another, but they are still out there. The past plays a very important role in Gilead, even though at times it appears to be obliterated. Knowing this I can see that the book itself is a palimpest.