lllustration of six women wearing long, loose red dresses

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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Chapters 19-24: Questions and Answers

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 890

Study Questions 1. The chances that Ofwarren will deliver a healthy baby are only one in four. What does this indicate about the state of the environment?

2. Since they play no real role in the birth process, why do the Wives and Handmaids all attend the birth of Ofwarren’s/Janine’s child?

3. Since the birth is a special women’s event, why are the Handmaids given inferior food to that of the Wives?

4. Offred notes that all machines that could tell the viability of a fetus have been outlawed in Gilead. What does this reveal about the society?

5. Why are the Handmaid trainees at the Center shown films of pro-choice feminist rallies after having viewed violent pornography?

6. How could Offred have vindicated her mother?

7. If birthing babies is Gilead’s chief goal, why are the babies spoken of so callously?

8. Of all the games he could choose, why does the Commander want to play Scrabble?

9. Why does the Commander ask Offred to kiss him?

10. Why is it significant that Offred recalls a documentary featuring the mistress of a commander from the Nazi concentration camps after her “date” with the Commander of her household?

Answers 1. The low birth rate and the high infant mortality rate suggest that the environment has become increasingly toxic. Concern about pollution seems to have been another factor that lead to the Gilead revolution. Offred provides some of the details of the ecological crisis by referring to exploding atomic power plants along the San Andreas fault and a mutant strain of syphilis that could not be cured.

2. Gilead is supposed to be about “family values”—some of them, at least—and it intends to stop the decline in white births. So the birth of Janine’s child is not just a family event, but a community celebration. But Gilead segregates the sexes, giving most of its world to men, but leaving some for women. This is one of those areas.

3. Gilead is full of fraud. It claims to be Bible-based, yet it adds to or deletes from the Bible as it chooses. It also gives a very literal interpretation of many passages. Gilead is divided into many hostile groups. So even at this “women’s festival” there is still division and hostility.

4. The banning of ultrasounds shows Gilead’s absolute restriction against abortion. Since no pregnancy can be terminated, there is no need to monitor the health of the fetus. This also illustrates the society’s desperate need for children since every fetus is taken to full term. But by removing this element of prenatal care—in the same way that the doctors in the Emerge van are excluded from the birthing room in all but critical cases—the regime is denying women the medical intervention that could ensure more healthy babies.

5. Linking pornography with the feminists is part of Gilead’s manipulation of truth. It is a form of aversion therapy in which something the subject likes is linked to something she dislikes, until she ends up disliking both. Gilead cares about manipulation, not about truth, and, since it is prepared to manipulate the Bible, it is equally prepared to manipulate the truth.

6. If Offred had been a feminist leader, her mother would have been vindicated. Her mother chose to have a child without a husband. She talked repeatedly of feminism, disparaged men and marriage, and involved her child in her causes and rallies. When Offred chose a more traditional route to creating a family, her mother felt that her own life choices were not being justified and were perhaps even being questioned.


(This entire section contains 890 words.)

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Speaking of babies as “shredders” (who shreds them, and how?) shows the real indifference to human life in Gilead. It is like those people who profess to believe in humanity but are vile to individual human beings. The one thing Gilead seems to despise is love or compassion. So it’s in keeping with the whole mood of Gilead that babies are spoken of so callously.

8. Checkers, Clue, and a hundred other games would be less provocative than Scrabble. Since it is a game of letters and spelling, which are taboo for Handmaids, it is more daring than any other game. The only other game that would approach it is Monopoly, which is about the acquisition of property and money, since Handmaids can acquire nothing. Clearly the Commander wants to play the most dangerous game he can with Offred.

9. Kissing Offred is another of the Commander’s dangerous games, and perhaps this is the only reason he wants to. But he may also crave some real human contact with a woman, since he has none with his Wife. Perhaps he is almost as lonely as Offred.

10. Offred realizes she is moving into a complicitous relationship with her oppressor and this troubles her. The mistress featured in the documentary denied knowing about the ovens and claimed her lover was not a monster. Offred doesn’t have the choice to refuse her Commander’s advances as perhaps did this mistress, but she still must deal with the ambiguity of seeing the humanity of the Commander at the same time that she despises what he represents. The fact that the mistress committed suicide shortly after the making of the documentary also connects her to Offred, who continues to see suicide as the only means of escape.


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