Suggested Essay Topics

Chapters 1-6
1. Discuss why Atwood has set her novel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard University. What does this add to the novel?

2. Atwood chose not to follow a strictly chronological pattern in the telling of Offred's story. Why do you think she did so? What does it add and what are its disadvantages?

3. Aunt Lydia says to the Handmaid-trainees, “We were a society dying of too much choice.” How does this relate to her distinction between freedom from and freedom to? What freedoms does Gilead claim to be providing its citizens? What freedoms are being denied?

Chapters 7-12
1. Consider the naming of the Handmaids—Offred, Ofwarren, and Ofglen, for example. What does this reveal about the values and power dynamics of Gilead? What parallels can be made between the naming system of their society and the naming of women in our society?

2. Each category of women in Gilead is resentful of the others. Explain the reasons for this resentment and discuss its ultimate effect.

3. How does Gilead’s policing of language help to control the thoughts of its citizens? For example, why is Offred so shocked when her doctor uses the word “sterile” in reference to men?

Chapters 13-18
1. Offred and Moira are very different people. Outline these differences and discuss what may nevertheless make them friends. What does their friendship do for the novel?

2. Offred’s narration is made up of a confusing mix of details from the present tense...

(The entire section is 639 words.)