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The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale


by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale Theme of Marriage

The society outlined in The Handmaid's Tale honors and privileges first marriages to the extreme. Second wives with children are rounded up as the likeliest candidates to become Handmaids. Everyone acts like it's perfectly normal to have a Handmaid (a surrogate child bearer) as part of an otherwise monogamous marriage.

But even though marriage is treated as a sacred state, standard problems between husbands and wives—lack of understanding, communication, and sexual desire—are as persistent as they ever were. While marriage is officially honored, it seems somewhat like a joke, with husbands and their wives always segregated within society.

Questions About Marriage

  1. How would you describe the Commander and Serena Joy's marriage? What about the narrator and Luke's?
  2. Do you think the Handmaid arrangement is supported by the Biblical evidence people cite throughout the book? Why or why not?
  3. How would our world work if only first marriages were legal? What changes would we see?
  4. In what ways did these changes to marriages not solve the Gileadeans' problems?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The troubling ways in which Gileadean society easily uses Biblical evidence to support a state-sanctioned version of three-person marriage show how easily scripture can be manipulated to nefarious ends.

The Handmaid's Tale reveals the ways in which marriage has been separated from love and can be used as a tool for the state. Because of this, we should seriously reconsider the notion of marriage in the 21st century.

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