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The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale


by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale Identity Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

We learned to lip-read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other's mouths. In this way we exchanged names from bed to bed:

Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June. (1.5-6)

Trapped as they are in the new society of Gilead, the narrator and her peers are forbidden from speaking or even using their real names. Despite that, they find ways to subvert these rules and convey their names, so that they manage at least to preserve this important part of their identities. Fun fact: if you're looking closely, there might be a clue to the narrator's name here. Check out "Character Clues" for more.

Quote #2

This woman has been my partner for two weeks. I don't know what happened to the one before. On a certain day she simply wasn't there anymore, and this one was there in her place. It isn't the sort of thing you ask questions about, because the answers are not usually answers you want to know. Anyway there wouldn't be an answer. (4.18)

This situation, in which one Ofglen is replaced by another, points to the problem of the disconnect between names and people in this society. These women's personalities almost literally don't matter, because they're just replacing each other in spaces where other Handmaids were or are supposed to be.

Quote #3

When I'm naked I lie down on the examining table, on the sheet of chilly crackling disposable paper. I pull the second sheet, the cloth one, up over my body. At neck level there's another sheet, suspended from the ceiling. It intersects me so the doctor will never see my face. He deals with a torso only. (11.6)

Here the narrator's body and mind are divided by a sheet that separates her physical body, the site of potential pregnancy, and her head, where her intellectual self resides. While the narrator is treated as a body that's separate from her self much of the time, here that separation is literalized.

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