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The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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How does fear of the future and mourning of the past characterize "The Handmaid's Tale"?

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is narrated by Offred (meaning "Of Fred"—she literally belongs to Fred) and includes descriptions of both the present and past. Before society was taken over and Gilead was founded, Offred was a woman living with her husband and daughter. Now she is a Handmaid—a woman whose sole purpose is to bear children for men who are considered worthy of procreating.

Fear of the future is pervasive throughout the present in this novel. There is little that the Handmaids don’t fear. They, along with all other women in the book, have been given a role and must stick to that role, despite their feelings and desires. Those who are caught—or even thought—to be going against the new government of Gilead are punished or killed, meaning that it is dangerous to trust anybody. Offred is afraid to talk openly with other Handmaids, even those she thinks she trusts. She is afraid of not getting pregnant, because Handmaids are blamed for this “transgression.” There is not a moment of her life that she does not have to fear Gilead.

Mourning the past is also vivid in Offred’s descriptions of her life before Gilead. She misses her husband and daughter, and we are shown the freedom of the “normal” life that Offred once had (we never learn her real name). The descriptions of her daughter and the moments they shared are visceral and illustrate the pain Offred feels—the pain of not having her daughter with her, not knowing if she will ever see her again.

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