The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale Theme of Identity
In The Handmaid's Tale, nearly everyone's identity has been stripped away. Although the most powerful have more privileges than some of the others, everyone has been renamed and repositioned. Women are grouped into classes (Handmaid, Wife, Martha, Econowife). The body and its functions – especially the fertile female body – have become more important than personality, education, or mind. This theme is highlighted by the fact that no character is represented by his or her real name. (For more, see "Character Clues: Names.")
Questions About Identity
- Are there any clues in the text that point to the narrator's real name?
- Do names matter? How do they determine identity?
- How does class standing and societal position define someone in this book?
Chew on This
The narrator's voice is so clear and absolute that, even though she doesn't reveal her real name, by the book's end readers feel they know her.
In a society like that of Gilead, it would be impossible for any individual, male or female, to hold onto his or her identity for long.