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The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

Reading, Writing, and Storytelling Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

This isn't a story I'm telling.

It's also a story I'm telling, in my head, as I go along.

Tell, rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden. But if it's a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone. You don't tell a story only to yourself. There's always someone else. (7.34-36)

Usually when we're reading a piece of literature, we suspend our disbelief about how that story got to us. In other words, we don't think about how the narrator or character we're learning about got his or her story onto paper. The narrator makes that impossible here by addressing an implied reader. She seems to be telling the story both to herself and to this "someone else" to stave off loneliness.

Quote #2

I am trying not to tell stories, or at any rate not this one. (9.2)

There's a slippage here between fiction and reality. The narrator says she doesn't want to "tell stories," as in falsehoods or lies, but then she adds "not this one." So how much of her story is true?

Quote #3

I sit in the chair and think about the word chair. It can also mean the leader of a meeting. It can also mean a mode of execution. It is the first syllable in charity. It is the French word for flesh. None of these facts has any connection with the others.

These are the kinds of litanies I use, to compose myself. (19.8-9)

The narrator is often thinking about words and their meanings, origins, uses, etc. Even though she's not allowed to read anymore, the narrator clings to words like lifejackets, using them "to compose [her]self." The words and their various meanings remind her of who she is.

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