Questions for Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

1). Both the Diary of a Young Girl and The Handmaid’s Tale are written in the genre of a journal. What intersections between the texts as journals do you see in terms of the kind of analysis of gender that emerges? For instance, what similarities do you see in writing style, or in the kinds of observations made?

2). Atwood wrote about this text that "It is an imagined account of what happens when not uncommon pronouncements about women are taken to their logical conclusions. History proves that what we have been in the past we could be again." What pronouncements about women do you see circulating today in the media and also in The Handmaid’s Tale? Where in the text do you see the extension to their "logical conclusions"?

3). In The Handmaid’s Tale, there are explicit connections between the situation of women in the novel and their literacy. What are these connections? Elaborate.

4). In some ways, the situations described in The Handmaid’s Tale are indicative of a totalitarian society and are unfamiliar to us. In some ways, however, they are situations that are extremely familiar to us as readers in a self-described "liberal democracy." Describe one unfamiliar scenario, and one familiar one from the text.
Questions for discussion
Write one page (freehand) on your assigned question.

pp. 160 (Ch. 26) – end, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

1. You might describe The Handmaid’s Tale as a consideration of the many definitions of “women’s freedom” that circulate today in Western society, some of which clash blatantly with others.  Pinpoint two different uses of “freedom” or “choice” in the novel, and describe what they refer to, how they agree, and how they disagree.

2.  In Chapter 36, Offred and the Commander visit “Jezebel’s,” an undercover nightclub, in which many features of the “old days” are reconstructed.  In her narrative, Offred makes reference to several different fairy tales.  Which fairy tales are referred to, and how?  What are some of the implicit features of these fairy tales that are examined in this chapter?  What are the some of the effects on you as a reader of these fairy tales invocations?

3.   On pp. 117 (Ch. 20), 173 (Ch. 28), and 225 (Ch. 35), Offred performs some of her characteristic “etymologies” (etymology means the process of tracing out and describing the elements of a word with their modifications of form and sense).  While her etymologies might seem like random association, we might be able to give her associations some serious thought.  For instance, part of Offred’s purpose in these etymologies is to remember what the old days were like.  Through this remembering, we are given access to how these terms operated in specific social contexts.  What are the words or terms in question?  What are they associated with?  How does Offred’s word groupings operate to critique the social context in which they are used?

4.  In its second half, the novel shifts its emphasis to those relations between people that take place “undercover” or subversively—for instance, between Handmaids (e.g. Offred and Ofglen); between subalterns (e.g. Offred and Nick); between Offred and the Commander; between Offred and Serena.  Discuss two of these relationships in the following context (it can be another relationship).  How is the regime subverted by this relation?  On the other hand, how are some aspects of the regime reproduced in the relation?