The Handmaid's Tale

This video discusses Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, set in a negative utopia in which women have no control over the government or their lives. Why does the narrator have no name? Life is tough under a totalitarian government that doesn’t see women as human beings.

AuthorAtwood - Margaret Atwood
FormNovel
LanguageEnglish Language
LiteratureDystopian Literature
World Literature
ThemesPrejudice
Women and Femininity

Transcript

00:27

I’m on every page, and I get all the good lines.

00:30

So, not that I’m complaining, but… why in heavens don’t I get a name?

00:36

Why do I have to be just the “narrator” or “the handmaid?”

00:38

Is that all I am to you, Margaret? My first instinct tells me that she left me

00:45

nameless because she wanted the reader to… be me.

00:50

In other words, she was hoping they’d step into my shoes…

00:53

…while filling in their own name…

00:55

…making all of my trials and tribulations seem more personal.

01:00

If I were given my own name, it might have kept readers at a slight distance…

01:05

…because then I would have just been… some woman all this stuff happened to.

01:10

Or perhaps I didn’t get a name because Margaret didn’t want me to represent just one person.

01:16

Although the book tells an individual story…

01:18

…it could be that she wanted me to symbolize women everywhere who are oppressed, discarded

01:25

or disregarded…

01:25

…so that I’m sort of the poster child for… gender equality.

01:29

Yeah, I know… I’m too old to be a poster child. Poster “woman,” then. Sounds more

01:31

official anyway.

01:31

Hold on though… maybe Margaret was just trying to do to me… what the men in her

01:36

book were doing to women.

01:38

In her world… and, okay, in my world… men treat women as complete inferiors.

01:43

To them, women are basically… love-making, baby-producing machines.

01:49

Lucky for the men, most of us are pretty low-maintenance. But you get the sense that the men don’t

01:54

even look at us as people.

01:55

They just look at us like one vast, collective group of kid incubators.

01:57

And if we’re not people… then we don’t need names.

02:00

I’m not sure of Margaret’s reason for leaving me nameless…

02:04

…but I’m sure she had a good one.

02:07

Was it to allow the reader to step into my shoes?

02:09

To use me as a symbol to represent women everywhere?

02:13

Or to show how callous and cruel the men in her negative utopia really are?

02:19

I don’t know about you, but I’m leaning toward that last one.

02:22

But then… I naturally have a bias against the… unfairer sex.