Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 916
1. Why was Offred’s daughter taken from her?
2. Why does Offred wish her story were untrue?
3. Why do Econowives hate Handmaids?
4. What might be the consequences of Gilead’s persecution of Catholic priests?
5. Why is Offred upset at seeing the Commander outside her door?
6. Why does Offred feel the need to invent a face and a personality for her predecessor?
7. What is the significance of Offred remembering the song “Amazing Grace”?
8. When she watches the Commander from her bedroom window, why does Offred remember dropping water bombs at college?
9. Why does the doctor offer to get Offred pregnant?
10. Why are Handmaids tattooed on the ankle?
1. Most women in Gilead are childless, including Wives, so children are prized. Therefore, a Wife’s acquisition of a child is a boon for her and a sign of prestige. Besides, since Wives are not allowed to work, having a child gives them something to fill their days with. Since Handmaids are stripped of their names and all their individuality, and must be abject servants of the state, losing their children is an absolutely necessary part of this process.
2. Toying with the idea of the truth or untruth of her story, Offred is desperate for any kind of escape. She knows that her future in Gilead is bleak at best, and at worst she may soon lose her life. Telling herself that her present situation is a product of her imagination, or just a bad dream, is the most readily available means of escape. But if Offred loses the ability to distinguish reality from hallucination, she will sink into insanity, and Gilead is not likely to treat the insane with compassion; it probably kills them. Further, Offred’s sanity is vital to any escape attempt.
3. Econowives have very low status in Gilead, as their name implies (“economy grade” is the lowest grade for groceries). They are assigned husbands, whom they have to serve. Although they are not allowed individualism, Handmaids have status as the potential saviors of Gilead through their ability to have babies, and they have nothing but free time on their hands. So Econowives envy them. But we have seen that Offred would give anything to keep busy like the Econowives. Envy and hatred between different sectors of Gilead society helps keep the regime in place.
4. Of all the religious and racial persecutions Gilead undertakes, slaughtering Catholic priests is probably the most incendiary. Latin America, from which Gilead gets many of its foods and raw materials, is overwhelmingly Catholic, and this policy will not be well received in those countries. Perhaps this is a major reason why Central America is at war with Gilead. Catholicism is the major religion of many European countries as well, so Gilead’s policy undoubtedly is creating enemies there. Finally, the Catholic church has experienced persecution in many parts of the world at different times, and has learned ways of fighting back, or at least surviving. Catholicism was a central force in the Polish resistance to Communism, and helped to precipitate the collapse of the Soviet empire, so it could well do the same to Gilead.
5. Gilead separates its different categories of people except under certain rigidly controlled circumstances. Even within a Commander’s household, as we will learn, there are strict rules about who can be where and when, even for Commanders. That the Commander has broken one of those rules upsets Offred, who wonders, quite naturally, if this might endanger her.
6. Deprived of family and friends, and living among hostile people, Offred is desperate for companionship. Her fantasies about her predecessor, even down to the freckles, are like the creation of imaginary playmates by lonely children: it fills a human need. Like all people, Offred needs someone to act as a companion and confidant.
7. It is significant that Offred recalls the song “Amazing Grace” because its message is important to the book. Perhaps the fact that it was written by the former captain of a slave ship, who experienced a conversion and repented for having worked at such an inhuman trade, helps Atwood hint at a possible conversion in Gilead. But Offred can translate the message of the hymn of spiritual liberation into a message of physical liberation, too: “I once was lost but now am found” certainly is something she yearns to experience. If only Luke could find her! The hymn may play the same role for her as spirituals played in the lives of slaves: a coded message expressing their deepest desires for freedom.
8. Just as Offred has invented an imaginary “playmate” out of her predecessor, a kind of reversion to childhood, she, too, imagines performing a childish antic toward the Commander. After all, Handmaids are like children: all decisions are made for them by an “adult,” including what they wear and eat, even when they have a bath, so it is natural that they sometimes act and think childishly.
9. The doctor may be compassionate toward Offred and his other Handmaid patients, offering the only way he has to save them. Or he may simply be a lecher, enjoying having sex with as many young women as he can.
10. Since the Handmaids wear ankle-length gowns and Guardians are barely allowed to look them in the face at the check points, it is completely unlikely that a Guardian would ever see a Handmaid’s tattooed ID. More likely it is there for the Handmaids themselves to see, yet another reminder that they are just numbers, not human beings.
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