The Handmaid's Tale Sample Essay Outlines
by Margaret Atwood

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Sample Essay Outlines

Topic #1
Many democratic governments have been overthrown in the Twentieth Century. The Handmaid’s Tale shows how the government of the United States might be overthrown by a fanatical group and a dictatorship established. Consider how a government such as Gilead is created and how those in power attempt to maintain their control.

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I. Thesis Statement: The Handmaid’s Tale illustrates that a dictatorship can be established by playing upon people’s fears and dissatisfaction with societal conditions and that, once dictatorial controls are instituted, fear tactics can be asserted to attempt to keep the government in place.

II. Dissatisfactory conditions of the pre-Gilead society
A. Environmental deterioration due to increased pollution and nuclear explosions
B. Increased objectification of women through pornography
C. Increased sexual violence against women
D. Decreased birth rate among the Caucasian population
E. Rampant new strain of syphilis

III. Measures taken to seize control of the government and the society
A. Use of media to promote dissatisfaction
B. Assassination of the President and Congress
C. Mass firing of all women and seizure of their assets
D. Savage repression of protests

IV. Fear tactics used to maintain control in Gilead
A. Regimentation of society
1. Women assigned to groupings according to theirfunction
2. Society in uniforms, based upon groupings
3. Elimination of choice in daily life
4. Rivalries and jealousies between different groupings encouraged
B. Indoctrination
1. The Red Center
2. Misinformation on television, the only remaining information medium
3. Enforced illiteracy
4. Society involved in the punishment of offenders (Salvagings)
C. Creation of paranoia and fear
1. Meetings, even most conversations, banned
2. Threat of banishment to the Colonies
3. Public display of execution victims
4. The Eyes/the black vans

V. Resistance to government of Gilead, despite the repressive controls
A. War in Latin America and in various states
B. The Mayday resistance
C. The Underground Female road

VI. Conclusion
A. The manipulation of societal fear in establishing and maintaining a dictatorship
B. The inevitable vulnerability of a dictatorship due to the ability of resistance movements to move beyond fear

Topic #2
Sexism and misogyny exist when women are not granted the same rights as men, when women are restricted to the domestic sphere, and when women are valued primarily for their functionality rather than their humanness. Consider the way that sexism and misogyny share the culture of Gilead as well as the societies that precede and follow it.

I. Thesis Statement: The Handmaid’s Tale presents an extreme example of sexism and misogyny by featuring the complete objectification of women in the society of Gilead. Yet by also highlighting the mistreatment of women in the cultures that precede and follow the Gileadean era, Margaret Atwood is suggesting that sexism and misogyny are deeply embedded in any society and that serious and deliberate attention must be given to these forms of discrimination in order to eliminate them.

II. Discrimination of women in pre-Gilead society
A. Increased objectification of women’s bodies through pornography
B. Increased sexual violence against women
C. Growing sentiment that women are at fault for falling birth rates and for sexual violence committed
against them

III. Extreme forms of misogyny in Gilead
A. Women denied basic human rights
1. The right to claim ownership of children
2. The right to work outside the home
3. The right to make choices in daily life (dress,friendships, sexual partners)
4. The right to have an abortion
5. The right to own property
B. Women grouped according to their domestic functionality
1. Handmaids— expected to reproduce
2. Marthas—expected to perform household chores
3. Wives—expected to raise children and to enforce the rules of the domestic sphere
4. Econowives—lower class wives expected to carry out all three domestic functions in their homes
5. Women who do not have value in the...

(The entire section is 1,123 words.)