What are the themes of "The Handmaid's Tale"?

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linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You can read an excellent discussion of the themes in this novel in the eNotes study guide. "The Handmaid's Tale" is set in a futuristic United States in which lower-class women of childbearing age are forced to bear children for any male member of the ruling class. When the story begins, the narrator is in her third assignment as birth mother. She failed to become pregnant in her previous assignments, and if she fails in this one, she will become an "Unwoman" and be made to clean up toxic waste.

With this premise, it is easy to see that one of the themes of this novel is the role of women in society. Along with that is the theme of free will. The narrator, whose name is not given, has no free will. She was forced to leave her family, forced to become a handmaid, forced to have sex with strange men.

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reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many themes that arise from this novel, so I will mention a few. First of all, this novel is considered one of Dystopian literature; that is, when utopia (the perfect world)goes horribly wrong. One theme that emerges is the effect of this dystopia on humans. Look at Offred's life with Serena Joy and the Commander! That leads to another theme, human sexuality. Look at what happens when women are valued only for their ovaries and all emotional ties to sex are banished! One more theme for you could be the irony of national unity under a fascist state. When you have a government that attempts to make all people the same and dispose of individuality, all that arises from that is dysfunction. Are not all the main characters dysfunctional, whether they are Handmaids, Aunts, Wives, or Government Officials?

shannonslade06 | Student

FYI James

Although the main chracter is refered to as Offred, that is merely a given name.

All women who are to be used as serogate mothers for children to be born to socially higher class families were given names according to the name of the male leader of the household (ex. if the male head had been Richard it would have been Ofrichard). Obviously you did not pay close enough attention while reading this novel. I suggest you do so before correcting someone of higher education than yourself.

james09 | Student

FYI linda-allen

The narrator's name was given many times...it's Offred

Read the study guide:
The Handmaid's Tale

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