The Handmaid's Tale Chapters 1-6: Questions and Answers
by Margaret Atwood

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Chapters 1-6: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Offred want to recall the games and dances that
were held in the former gymnasium that is now the Rachel and Leah Re-education (Red) Center?

2. Why are the Handmaid-trainees housed in the gym rather than the classrooms, and why are the cots in the Center set up with space between them?

3. Offred explores the room she has been assigned and discovers that the chandelier has been removed, the window glass is shatterproof, and the window only opens halfway.
Why have these measures been taken?

4. What clothing is worn by the Handmaids and by the Marthas, and why are these outfits so important to the regime?

5. What does Offred remember of the Commander's Wife from the past, and why does Atwood choose to make this Wife a person who was famous in the time before the revolution?

6. Why does Serena Joy spend all of her time gardening and knitting scarves for the soldiers, and why is Offred envious of these pastimes?

7. Why does Offred fear that Nick is a spy? What would he be spying on?

8. Since Gilead is a fundamentalist Christian regime, why would the Baptists rebel against it?

9. Why are all the words banished from store signs? Why are Handmaids forbidden to read and write?

10. Why might Gilead have shipped most of its older women to the Colonies?

1. Offred recalls the games and dances to keep her memories of the past alive. Remembering serves as both an act of rebellion against Gilead and a way for her to maintain her sense of selfhood and sanity. She can easily recall the yearning teenager she once was, someone who looked forward to leaving home and starting her own independent life, because having been reduced by the Gilead regime to the status of a helpless child, she again yearns for independence.

2. The Handmaid-trainees are forbidden to talk with each other; it is far easier to enforce this rule if they live in a single dormitory room. It would be impossible to monitor them with the same strictness if they were housed six or eight to a room. There are spaces between the cots to further ensure their silence and their obedience, but the women still manage to communicate by touching each other's hands across space, lipreading, and exchanging their names.

3. The alterations have been made to the room to keep a Handmaid from attempting an escape through suicide. That these precautions are automatically taken suggests the unhappy existence of the Handmaids since many of them must have resorted to this desperate measure.

4. The Handmaids are dressed in red, ankle-length dresses, red gloves, and red shoes. They wear white wings around their faces that limit their perspective and prevent them from being seen by others. The Marthas wear long, dull green dresses without the white wings; nobody cares if their faces are seen. Since the Handmaids and Marthas are servants of the state, their clothing must reflect their status. Most totalitarian societies put their people, even children, in uniforms to remind them of where their primary allegiance should be. This also serves to prompt children to inform on their parents, their siblings, and their friends, an important part of totalitarianism.

5. Offred recalls that the Commander's Wife was formerly Serena Joy—a television Gospel singer and later a critic of the American way of life. This realization suggests to Offred that her new situation might be worse than her previous two. That Serena Joy once had a career and fame makes her position as a Wife all the more ironic. Having railed against the values of American life, and promoted the values that Gilead goes on to adopt, she finds herself almost as much a prisoner of those values as any Handmaid is. Besides, just as with Serena Joy's husband, the Commander, Atwood wants to show how the initiators of Gilead are having to cope with the new regime. From top to bottom, Gilead is one giant prison.

6. Having led a very active life before the revolution, Serena Joy is reduced to just two things: gardening and knitting. By giving her...

(The entire section is 1,119 words.)