lllustration of six women wearing long, loose red dresses

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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Chapters 31-40: Questions and Answers

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Study Questions 1. What bothers Offred about Moira’s recollection that women once were banned from Memorial Hall?

2. Is there any truth to the Commander’s idea that men were turned off by sex in pre-Gilead America because of women’s availability?

3. What does the Commander’s statement “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs” mean?

4. What is Ofwarren’s/Janine’s role in the novel?

5. Is Offred a wimp, as Moira suggests?

6. How does Offred know that the Commander has taken such an adventure before?

7. What is the significance of the fact that a number of the prostitutes at Jezebel’s were professional women in the days before the revolution?

8. Moira worried that the Quaker family would not open the door to her because she was dressed in an Aunt’s outfit. Why is it significant that this did not happen?

9. Why does Moira lose her will to resist?

10. Why does Luke resist Offred’s suggestion to call the police after her mother’s disappearance?

Answers 1. Moira’s raking up past affronts to women bothers Offred because she does not share Moira’s grievance against men and because it only helps preserve those old divisions. There comes a time, she suggests, when you have to leave the past behind and live in the present. The implications of this disagreement are vast. For example, should African Americans demand compensation because their ancestors were stolen out of Africa, shipped across the Atlantic, and enslaved for generations? Should Jews hold present-day Germany liable for the Holocaust? Thousands of such grievances can be made against past injustices. Is there a historical statute of limitations that decrees when past crimes must be treated as over and done?

2. The Commander blames women’s sexual availability for the falling birthrate. This seems unrealistic—part of Gilead’s policy of blaming women for most failures.

3. The Commander’s “breaking eggs to make an omelette” statement comes from Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union. He inaugurated a policy of terror in 1919 that led directly to the Stalinist terror of the 1930s which killed perhaps as many as 30 million people, far more than Hitler’s genocide. It is a facile phrase and obscures the fact that it is not eggs that are being broken, but human beings. In effect, the Commander is glibly rationalizing the murder of thousands—even millions—of people and the ruination of the lives of millions more to achieve Gilead’s goals. It ties him to all of history’s murderous dictators.

4. Janine clearly is put into the novel to show the debilitating effects of Gilead on a woman who lacks any real strength: it sends her over the brink into madness. She also shows that it is almost impossible for a Handmaid to win in Gilead. She ingratiated herself with the Aunts at the Red Center and has become pregnant twice as a Handmaid, so she has done all the right things. Still she is doomed.

5. Offred is nothing like what Janine is. In fact, Offred stands midway between the two extremes of Janine (total slave to Gilead) and Moira (total rebel). She is a sort of Everywoman, representing the majority of women who have a clear sense of self, who achieve an education and a job, but who are not strident.

6. The Commander’s instructions to Nick suggest that this adventure is routine for him. In addition, he has a key to the door of the establishment. The outfit that he provides Offred has been worn before, perhaps by the previous Offred.

7. These women—including the sociologist, the lawyer, and the business executive—have opted to become prostitutes rather...

(This entire section contains 836 words.)

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than Handmaids or Marthas because they can retain some degree of free expression. That the men appreciate the conversation these women can offer suggests that it is not just the sex that attracts them to the club.

8. The Quaker family was not alarmed by Moira’s appearance because the Aunts and even the Center were hardly common knowledge in the early days of the regime. As with the extermination of Jews in the concentration camps, the mental and physical abuse of the Handmaids was kept secret at first. By the time people were aware of the policies that made up this reproduction program, it was too dangerous to raise objections or to form a protest.

9. Like Offred, Moira was given the choice to do what was asked of her or to go to the Colonies. After viewing the film about the Colonies, she knows there really is no choice involved. Her work as a prostitute at least allows her relative safety and some freedom of expression in the company of the other prostitutes, although she will lose even these liberties in a few years.

10. Luke realizes it is likely that it was the police who ransacked his mother-in-law’s apartment and abducted her. Since Offred’s mother was an ardent feminist and activist in the pre-Gilead days, the government probably considered her a threat that needed to be silenced.


Chapters 25-30: Questions and Answers


Chapters 41-46 and Historical Notes: Questions and Answers