The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale Children Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that's the law.
"Lots of women do it," he goes on. "You want a baby, don't you?"
"Yes," I say. It's true, and I don't ask why, because I know. Give me children, or else I die. There's more than one meaning to it. (11.18-20)
Aside from the whole problem of putting all the blame for sterility on women, there's an even more troubling idea here. "Give me children, or else I die" doesn't just mean the childless mother will suffer from grief and anguish. Death is literal here: if a Handmaid doesn't get pregnant and provide the Republic with at least one child, she's a goner.
It's a Saturday morning in September. I'm wearing my shining name. The little girl who is now dead sits in the back seat, with her two best dolls, her stuffed rabbit, mangy with age and love. I know all the details. They are sentimental details but I can't help that. I can't think about the rabbit too much though, I can't start to cry, here on the Chinese rug. (14.38)
Here the narrator displaces her grief about her daughter onto the "stuffed rabbit, mangy with age and love." Just the thought of the rabbit, a stand-in for her daughter, is enough to choke her up.
Aunt Elizabeth, holding the baby, looks up at us and smiles. We smile too, we are one smile, tears run down our cheeks, we are so happy.
Our happiness is part memory. What I remember is Luke, with me in the hospital, standing beside my head, holding my hand, in the green gown and white mask they gave him. Oh, he said, oh Jesus, breath coming out in wonder. (21.24-25)
Here the narrator celebrates something it seems like she'll never have again. Even though she and the other women "are so happy," that happiness doesn't have the "breath coming out in wonder" that Luke had when they made a baby together, out of love. As magical as this new life is, no more babies are being created out of loving unions.