Study Guide

The Handmaid's Tale Chapter 19

By Margaret Atwood

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Chapter 19

Birth Day

  • The narrator is dreaming that she leaves the Commander's house and goes home to meet her daughter. When she hugs her daughter she realizes she must be dreaming, which makes her cry. Then she awakens in another dream, where she is a child and her mother visits her.
  • Then she really wakes up. She wonders if she's being drugged and decides she's not crazy yet.
  • She looks at her "FAITH" pillow and wonders if there are others in the set, then goes downstairs and sits in a chair. There she thinks about the meaning of "chair" while having a breakfast of eggs and toast.
  • The narrator meditates on the egg. Her situation makes her doubt even the small pleasure she finds in the egg. She wishes she had something of her own.
  • Then she hears a siren; it's a red ambulance. Cora gets her and she gets ready to go. The narrator speeds outside and gets in the Birthmobile. Three other Handmaids are also in it. One of them, crying tears of joy, hugs the narrator. The person giving birth is Ofwarren (Janine).
  • On birth days the Handmaids have more freedom than usual.
  • The narrator hopes the baby will be healthy and whole. Even if it's not, abortion is illegal so Ofwarren would have to have it anyway. Pollution, catastrophes, and "mutant" syphilis have led to widespread infertility, so for a baby to be born unhealthy, as an Unbaby, is a tragedy.
  • Some women, rather than be in the Handmaid's position, made themselves infertile. The narrator remembers Aunt Lydia lecturing the Center women about this.
  • The narrator flashes back to another lecture by Aunt Lydia at the Center, when she told them about their special task. The narrator focuses on graffiti on her desk while Aunt Lydia talks.
  • Aunt Lydia says the women are like pearls, and the narrator thinks about how she will make fun of that with Moira.
  • The flashback ends, and the Birthmobile arrives. The narrator and the other women get out. Doctors have to wait outside; they can only attend the birth if there's an emergency.
  • The narrator remembers Aunt Lydia saying how awful births with doctors and technology used to be. Now it's all natural, all women, with no anesthetic. At the Center they heard about that part of Genesis every day at lunch.
  • Another car (this one blue) is approaching, with all the Wives in it. The narrator imagines that Serena Joy has been to this house before, that Ofwarren (Janine) got special treatment, but that the Wives treated her like a pet or a dog. That afterwards, they'd commiserate with each other about how tough it was for them. She imagines Ofwarren sent upstairs, not thinking at all.

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