The Handmaid's Tale Questions and Answers
by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale book cover
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In The Handmaid's Tale, why is it significant that Offred remembers her life before Gilead society with Luke, her mom, her doughter?

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It is significant that Offred remembers the time before the creation of Gilead—time she spent with her husband and daughter—for a few reasons. First, she is able to compare her past life to her new life, showing us just how much things have changed in the years that Gilead has existed. Second, Offred is able to talk about how such a regime was able to come into power. She describes how, in slowly warming water, one would be boiled to death before one becomes aware of the heat. The changes that led to the creation of Gilead came slowly at first, so slowly that no one really seemed to be terribly bothered, let alone protest them. There are certainly lessons to be learned from this. Third, we can come to understand Offred's unique position as a member of the transitional generation. Soon, there will be people who do not and cannot remember the time before Gilead. These individuals will have lost the ability to compare their lives to anything different, and they will be illiterate, both facts greatly reducing their ability to rebel or think critically about their situations. This is a frightening prospect!

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accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think the flashbacks we get to life before Gilead through Offred's mind serve to form an incredibly important function. Juxtaposing happier memories of her life with her husband and their child living a "normal" life and then on the run, and then with Offred as a Handmaiden highlights how much the world has changed and also serves to heighten the contrast between the freedom women and people had compared to the sexual enslavement Offred is suffering now. Flashbacks therefore are one of the elements that heighten the harsh realities of the society of Gilead - where humanity has stooped so low that any women who are still fertile are rounded up like animals and given out to the most important men in society to impregnate.

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