Study Guide

The Handmaid's Tale Chapter 21

By Margaret Atwood

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Chapter 21

Birth Day

  • Back at the birthing, it's too warm and too loud. The Handmaids chant while Janine struggles in labor. The narrator sees Ofglen. A Martha brings refreshments, and while they're being passed out, the Handmaid next to the narrator reveals that her name is Alma. The narrator asks Alma if she's heard of Moira, but she hasn't. Then Aunt Elizabeth sees them so they have to stop.
  • The narrator wishes she could ask about Luke, but no one would have any answers for her.
  • The narrator gets swept up in the chant and the birth. The women say Janine is in "transition." They assist her with peeing and then Janine continues to walk, before crying out in pain.
  • They turn out the lights and put Janine on the Birthing Stool, and the Handmaids watch. This Commander's Wife comes in and sits behind Janine.
  • The baby is pushed out. It's a girl, which is not as good as a boy, but it's healthy. Everyone's happy, and the narrator remembers her own—and Luke's—happiness when their daughter was born.
  • The Handmaids have to help Janine while the Wives coo over the baby. The Wife names her Angela.
  • Janine will get to nurse the baby for a little, the narrator says, before getting a new assignment and going back to the drawing board, leaving the baby behind. Because she had a baby successfully she won't be sent to the Colonies.
  • The Handmaids are led out and back to the Birthmobile. The narrator tells a nearby doctor that things went well.
  • In the car the women are sad and think about the babies they've lost or never had. The narrator thinks of her mother and how now there is some sort of "women's culture."

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