The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
This is the kind of touch they like: folk art, archaic, made by women, in their spare time, from things that have no further use. A return to traditional values. Waste not want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want? (2.2)
The narrator compares herself and the other Handmaids to "folk art, archaic," using the proverb "waste not, want not." These women and art are both decorative and pointless, leftovers that have been used up. Feeling both useless and used up, the narrator plays on the word "want," reminding herself why she isn't the same as a useless art object.
There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimp, that mark the women of the poorer men. Econowives, they're called. These women are not divided into functions. They have to do everything; if they can. (5.5)
Here the narrator describes the roles of women in this society. All but the Econowives are "divided into functions," as shown by their dress. The women are basically color-coded: blue Wives, red Handmaids, green Marthas. Their individuality is completely stripped away.
My nakedness is strange to me already. [...] Did I really wear bathing suits, at the beach? I did, without thought, among men, without caring that my legs, my arms, my thighs and back were on display, could be seen. Shameful, immodest. I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it's shameful or immodest but because I don't want to see it. I don't want to look at something that determines me so completely. (12.4)
Nude, the narrator tries to disassociate herself from her body and what it represents. She "do[es]n't want to look at something that determines [her] so completely." She is more than her body. The narrator passively, silently rejects the determination society has made about her based on her form and fertility.