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The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale Analysis

Literary Devices in The Handmaid's Tale

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

The novel is peppered with frequent allusions to different parts of the Bible. The most obvious is the reference to Genesis 30:1-3 (Epigraph), with its catchy phrase, "Give me children or else I di...

Setting

The Handmaid's Tale takes place in a city in what used to be in the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead. In this alternative future state, the democratic government has been overthrown...

Narrator Point of View

In this book, the narrator acts as the readers' eyes and ears. We see Gilead as she sees it; we interpret it as she interprets it; and our only knowledge of it comes from the tidbits she gives to u...

Genre

Science Fiction or Speculative Fiction?At first glance, The Handmaid's Tale seems to fit well into the genre of science fiction, with its new social caste system, alternate view of the future, an...

Tone

Let's face it, living in the Republic of Gilead sucks. Of course, it's worse for some than others, but even the most powerful don't have that great a time of it. So why sugarcoat something so awful...

Writing Style

The narrator speaks plainly and bluntly throughout the book. But despite her fascination with the texture of words, much of the time her words seem to cloak or obscure what really happened. The con...

What's Up With the Title?

If you skip ahead and turn to the back of the book, the way you might to find out whodunit in a murder mystery – not that Shmoop would know anything about that! – you find a brief, scholarly in...

What's Up With the Epigraph?

So, this book has three epigraphs, which in itself is kind of confusing. Let's take them one at a time.First, we've got Genesis:And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied h...

What's Up With the Ending?

You know the saying, is the glass half empty or half full? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Well, your natural level of optimism or pessimism is probably going to influence what you think happen...

Tough-o-Meter

Tricky narrative structure? Check. Lead character who may or may not be lying? Check. Lots of characters going by fake names or no names at all? Check. Uncomfortable subject matter? Check. Absence...

Plot Analysis

The narrator is sent to her "third posting," a position as Handmaid to the powerful Commander.This is pretty straightforward: the narrator arrives at a new location while explaining both her positi...

Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

The narrator is captured, sent to the Center, and assigned the position of Handmaid.The narrator is not alone in her capture and brainwashing; she is part of a select group of fertile women whom th...

Three-Act Plot Analysis

The narrator begins working as a Handmaid to a Commander and gradually becomes more involved with him, while also trying to find her way into the resistance and battling with flashbacks from her pa...

Trivia

Did you know Margaret Atwood tweets? Follow her here.Atwood is one of the inventors of the Long PenTM (source).The Handmaid's Tale was made into an opera, with music by Poul Ruders (source).Atwood'...

Steaminess Rating

One of the big ideas in Handmaid's Tale is reducing sex to less than the sum of its parts. Society has tried to eradicate pleasure and eroticism by depriving women of power and agency, and sex is s...

Allusions

Gilead, a land mentioned in the BibleGenesis 30:1-3 (Epigraph)Whirlwind, Chariot, Behemoth (4.3)Mark 4:1-9 (4.13) (5.12)Stores names' that reference the Old Testament: Lilies of the Field, Milk and...

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