The Handmaid's Tale Book Summary

The Handmaid's Tale Summary, it is a futuristic dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood published in 1985. It is set in a near-future New England in a patriarchal, white supremacist, totalitarian theonomic state known as the Republic of Gilead, which has overthrown the United States government. Offred is the central character and narrator and one of the "Handmaids", women who are forcibly assigned to produce children for the "Commanders", who are the ruling class in Gilead.

The Handmaid's Tale Book explores themes of powerless women in a patriarchal society, loss of female agency and individuality, suppression of women's reproductive rights, and the various means by which women resist and try to gain individuality and independence. The title echoes the component parts of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, which is a series of connected stories (such as "The Merchant's Tale" and "The Parson's Tale"). It also alludes to the tradition of fairy tales where the central character tells her story.

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The Handmaid's Tale Plot Summary

The Handmaid's Tale Summary

In the mid-1980s near Boston, Massachusetts, a cabal of rightwing fundamentalists murders the U.S. President and members of Congress, disenfranchises women by impounding their credit cards and denying them jobs and education, and sets up Gilead, a repressively conservative state bent on annihilating homosexuals, abortionists, and religious sects other than their own, and resettling Jews, old women, and nonwhite people in radioactive territory, known as the Colonies. Because nuclear and biological warfare has polluted vast areas, the population suffers a sharp decline in viable births and a rise in birth defects. Consequently, infertile and aged females, as well as homosexuals, are dispatched as clean-up crews in the Colonies. Fertile women involved in illicit liaisons or second marriages are apprehended, indoctrinated, and parceled out to Commanders of the secret police as Handmaids. These reduniformed breeders live in seclusion and virtual slavery and are deprived of their real names and labeled with a patronym of the men who control their lives-as in "Ofcharles" and "Ofwarren." The purpose of these polygynous relationships is the perpetuation of the white race, which carries on warfare in outlying areas in a struggle for supremacy.

Offred, the second wife of Luke and mother of a five-year-old daughter, attempts to escape to Canada. She is apprehended and separated from her family. Her mother, a vocal feminist, disappears. Virtually alone and friendless, Offred is selected as a potential breeder and indoctrinated at the Rachel and Leah Re-Education Center. The Handmaids-in-training share pared-down barracks — like quarters in a gymnasium surrounded by fences topped by barbed wire. Reunited with her feisty, rebellious college pal Moira, Offred maintains spunk and individuality while pretending to follow the direction of sadistic armed matrons, particularly Aunt Lydia and Aunt Elizabeth.

After lights out, Moira, Offred, and other Handmaids offer surreptitious support, survival tips, and bits of information. Like conspirators, they observe the patrolling Aunts and seize unguarded moments for normal behavior, including gripe sessions, food stolen from the cafeteria, and brief touches of hands between cots. Janine, a compliant stooge, struggles so hard to adapt to the restrictive Handmaid lifestyle that she retreats into a blank stare, evidence of impending mental and emotional collapse. Because Moira pretends to suffer an attack of appendicitis, she is tortured by beatings with steel cables on her feet. Ultimately, she overpowers Aunt Elizabeth, strips her, and escapes in the Aunt's khaki uniform.

Offred leaves the Center and joins the robotic cadre of Gilead's Handmaids. After one failed attempt to conceive, she passes into the possession of a second official, Commander Fred, whose previous Handmaid hanged herself from the bedroom light fixture. Daily, Offred carries a basket to local markets to obtain fresh food, then returns to a boring incarceration in a cloistered room, relieved only by public prayer sessions, birthings, monthly medical exams, and executions. Once a month she mates with Commander Fred in a pseudo-religious ritual requiring Bible reading, followed by copulation with the Commander in the presence of his aging Wife, Serena Joy. A spiteful, unhappy former gospel singer, Serena at first disdains Offred, then grows so despondent at their mutual barrenness that she arranges for Offred to conduct a secret sexual liaison with Nick, the family chauffeur.

Unknown to Serena, the Commander has been summoning Offred to late-night visits to his den for companionship, games of Scrabble, kisses, and gifts of hand lotion, fashion magazines, and information about the outside world. Offred divulges a Latin phrase that her predecessor scratched on the wall. The Commander translates it for her. On one of her visits, the Commander presents her with borrowed finery — makeup, high heels, a sequined and feathered costume, and an evening cloak. Offred abandons her standard red outfit and, dressed in whorish frippery, accompanies him to Jezebel's, an illegal nightclub staffed by prostitutes and frequented by Gilead officials and Japanese and Arab businessmen. Offred locates Moira among the prostitutes and pumps her for information. Moira relates her failed attempt to escape Gilead and reports seeing a documentary film that contained a glimpse of Offred's mother, now an Unwoman at a radioactive Colony.

On a late summer day, Serena confronts Offred with the garish sequined garment and accuses her of treachery. As Offred contemplates her alternatives — escape, suicide, retreat to Nick's quarters, a plea for mercy from the Commander — a black police van arrives. Nick enters her room and hurries her into the custody of two operatives of the Eyes, whom he indicates are double agents for Mayday, the underground liberation group that Ofglen has hinted at. Against the Commander's objections, the two agents charge Offred with violating state secrets and hustle her into the waiting van. Her narrative ends with her ambiguous departure from the Commander's custody.

On June 25, 2195, over two centuries after the formation of Gilead's theocratic dictatorship, an academic consortium listens to a keynote speech delivered by Professor James Darcy Pieixoto, an archivist who gives evidence of Offred's experiences as narrated on thirty cassette tapes. The unnumbered segments do not establish the existence of a real historical figure, but shreds of data suggest that the voice on the tapes belongs to a single speaker who identifies a real Commander, possibly Frederick R. Waterford, who was eradicated during a state purge of liberals. Pieixoto's surmise is that Offred escaped Gilead on the Underground Femaleroad, connected with a Quaker way station in Bangor, Maine, and concealed her story on pre-recorded commercial tapes before departing to either Canada or England. Pieixoto assumes that Offred lived out her life in seclusion to spare her family from lethal reprisals.

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Questions about The Handmaid's Tale Plot

What is the basic story of the handmaids tale? It tells the story of Offred, our protagonist, a handmaid tasked with bearing children for the elite of Gilead, a totalitarian society that took over the United States following a military coup.

Why can the handmaids get pregnant? In the story, an environmental disaster has led to most women becoming infertile, and the small number who are still able to become pregnant are forced to become handmaids, women who are owned by the ruling elite and systematically raped in order to provide them with children.

What is the purpose of The Handmaid's? Ripped from their previous lives by the Eyes, members of the government watch group, the handmaids are fertile women assigned to the households of the elite Wives and Commanders. Their only duty is to carry children for these families.

Does the Handmaid get pregnant? In the television adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale, Offred not only gets pregnant. She gives birth to a healthy daughter who is later smuggled into Canada by her friend, Ofglen. This is one dramatic way in which the show differs from the novel.

Why do Handmaids wear red? The Handmaids wear red dresses and red capes, which they must wear in public. Wearing red indicates the Handmaids' fertility, symbolising their primary role which is to produce a child. Only those women who are fertile wear red.

What lessons does Handmaids Tale teach us? The 6 Life Lessons you can Learn from The Handmaid's Tale

Freedom is not as simple as we think.
Everything is changing fast.
The Power of Fear.
Dreams and Goals are the Fuel for our Lives.
There is Always Somebody to Help Us.

We can Always Change our Beliefs and Dreams.

Do the commanders sleep with their Wives? In the show, there's a black Commander who got his wife pregnant. And the novel mentions that very few lucky wives of commanders get pregnant. (Albeit it is mentioned that some wives, like the handmaids, resort to other men). So, it seems to be that married couples are allowed sex.

How many times can a Handmaid get pregnant? Handmaids have three chances to get pregnant in three different households during two year assignments. If, after the third time, they are not able to produce a living, healthy baby, they will be sent off to the Colonies to face certain death.

Why is the Handmaids Tale banned? The book contains both violence and profanity. It depicts sexual activity. Proponents of banning it have pointed to all of these, with predictable “Think of the children!” hand-wringing. But other books that contain more of all of these remain unchallenged on the shelves of school libraries.

Why do handmaids lose an eye? She rolls her eyes and scoffs at Lydia's teachings, causing disruption and inconvenience for the other women present. As punishment, the Aunts take Janine's eye, a reference to the Bible passage ““if thy right eye offends thee, pluck it out” that almost instantly subdues her spitfire personality.

What is the sexism in the Handmaids Tale? In Gilead society, women are seen as body with social roles and they can be replaced by other bodies with similar function when no longer useful for Gilead. To able to give birth, the handmaids have to have sex with the men as the head of the family they live with. They cannot choose the man.

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