Reader's Comments
Book Club Discussion Questions and Reading Guide- The Handmaid's Tale By Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale

By Margaret Atwood

PBR Book Review:

The society this book depicts is one without freedom, one that is controlled by extremists- the ultra conservative type with zero tolerance for pleasure. Although far-fetched, it does provoke thought as it portrays the human condition and the ability to adjust. Many of the situations are disturbing. People, especially women, are pigeon holed and forced into specific roles – breeders, prostitutes, domestics and propagandists. Margaret Atwood takes you into this world and lets you experience it – her descriptions are amazing. Beware however that the mood of the book is dark and somber. Recommend for those that enjoy a good dystopian novel.




Book Club Talking Points:

Because this book deals with repression on so many levels it will provoke lots of discussion. Although overall it’s not realistic, fragments ring true. I think it would be interesting to contrast some of the restrictive customs of the Islamic cultures to the situations in this book. The book also provokes thought on feminist issues, the fallout of nuclear war and the human condition - what people are capable of doing. Some think the book is the ideal male world gone askew – it would be interesting to toss this topic around.

Buy From Amazon.com

*Author Website: http://www.margaretatwood.ca/

*Discussion Questions



1. The novel begins with three epigraphs. What are their functions?

2. In Gilead, women are categorized as wives, handmaids, Marthas, or Aunts, but Moira refuses to fit into a niche. Offred says she was like an elevator with open sides who made them dizzy, she was their fantasy. Trace Moira's role throughout the tale to determine what she symbolizes.

3. Aunt Lydia, Janine, and Offred's mother also represent more than themselves. What do each of their characters connote? What do the style and color of their clothes symbolize?

4. At one level, The Handmaid's Tale is about the writing process. Atwood cleverly weaves this sub-plot into a major focus with remarks by Offred such as "Context is all," and "I've filled it out for her...," "I made that up," and "I wish this story were different." Does Offred's habit of talking about the process of storytelling make it easier or more difficult for you to suspend disbelief?

5. A palimpsest is a medieval parchment that scribes attempted to scrape clean and use again, though they were unable to obliterate all traces of the original. How does the new republic of Gilead's social order often resemble a palimpsest?

6. The commander in the novel says you can't cheat nature. How do characters find ways to follow their natural instinct?

7. Why is the Bible under lock and key in Gilead? 8. Babies are referred to as "a keeper," "unbabies," "shredders." What other real or fictional worlds do these terms suggest?

9. Atwood's title brings to mind titles from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Why might Atwood have wanted you to make that connection?

10. What do you feel the historical notes at the book's end add to the reading of this novel? What does the book's last line mean to you?
(Discussion Questions by Publisher)


Book Summary

Everyman's Library - October 17, 2006 - 392 pages
A gripping vision of our society radically overturned by a theocratic revolution, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale has become one of the most powerful and most widely read novels of our time.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife. She may go out once a day to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for in a time of declining birthrates her value lies in her fertility, and failure means exile to the dangerously polluted Colonies. Offred can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Now she navigates the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules.

Like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid's Tale has endured not only as a literary landmark but as a warning of a possible future that is still chillingly relevant.
 
Looking for more reading suggestions?
Visit Our Blog
Browse A Little
Sign Up For Our Free Newsletter
Member Log in
PBR book reviews and Reading guides for book clubs
Sign up for our newsletter
Reading & Lifestyle Planner Printable
10 Books I Can't Stop Recommending