Chapters 1-6: Questions and Answers
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...
(The entire section is 1119 words.)
Chapters 7-12: Questions and Answers
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...
(The entire section is 916 words.)
Chapters 13-18: Questions and Answers
1. Why doesn’t Gilead give Handmaids “pig balls” to pass the time?
2. Why does Offred increasingly dream of Luke and her child?
3. What does Moira mean to Offred?
4. The TV news is meant to show Gilead’s successes. Why does Offred manage to take comfort from it?
5. Why is Gilead transporting African Americans to “homelands” in remote areas?
6. Why are parts of the house the Commander’s and other parts Serena Joy’s?
7. Why is the Ceremony likely to be unsuccessful?
8. What does the hidden pat of butter mean to Offred?
9. Why does Nick kiss Offred?
10. Why does Offred begin thinking of Luke and wondering about his whereabouts after the events of this evening?
1. Gilead probably denies Handmaids the equivalent of “pig balls” to remind them of their place. But all creatures need stimulation, as the pigs and rats show, to maintain their well- being. Depressed and unfit women are less likely to conceive and go on to bear healthy children than physically fit, happy ones. Mind and body interact, so Gilead’s divorce of the two is not likely to help increase the birth rate.
2. Offred’s dreams of Luke and their child are haunting ones
of them dying or disappearing. They suggest that Offred is sinking into despair and her chances of survival are waning.
3. Moira is all that Offred is not: physically and emotionally strong—going her own way at whatever the cost. She is a role model for Offred. She is also...
(The entire section is 662 words.)
Chapters 19-24: Questions and Answers
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
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?
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...
(The entire section is 890 words.)
Chapters 25-30: Questions and Answers
1. Why does Cora panic when she sees Offred asleep on the floor?
2. What is important about the models in the copy of Vogue?
3. How does the Commander justify having copies of fashion magazines such as Vogue if they were supposed to have been burned during the revolution?
4. How does Offred feel power over Serena Joy?
5. Why is Offred so hesitant to reply to Ofglen’s question about the Soul Scrolls?
6. What do the Soul Scrolls reveal about the spirituality of Gilead?
7. How was Gilead able to kill the President and Congress?
8. During the revolution, why did the government freeze women’s bank accounts at the same...
(The entire section is 746 words.)
Chapters 31-40: Questions and Answers
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...
(The entire section is 836 words.)
Chapters 41-46 and Historical Notes: Questions and Answers
1. Why does Offred offer two different versions of her encounter with Nick?
2. Why does Offred say that she did not behave well when speaking of her relationship with Nick?
3. Why are the Salvagings and Particicutions public ceremonies?
4. Why do the Handmaids act so murderously?
5. Why doesn’t Offred take part in the Particicution?
6. What are possible reasons for Ofglen’s near-arrest?
7. How does Serena Joy find out that Offred and her husband have been meeting secretly at night?
8. Who has summoned the Eyes to arrest Offred?
9. One of the events Crescent Moon announces is a nature walk. Given that the...
(The entire section is 968 words.)