The Handmaid’s Tale Book Cover

The Handmaid’s Tale

A woman struggle in totalitarian society
Publishing Year: 1985
Reading time: Key takeways: Quotes:

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The Handmaid’s Tale was written by Margaret Atwood, and was published in the year 1985. It is a futuristic feminist dystopian literature, depicting a world where women have been stripped off their civil rights and have been reduced to mere vessels for the upper class to generate their progeny. The state of Gilead overthrows the US government and establishes a totalitarian, dictatorship instead. Congressmen and anyone who try to question the government or go against it, are hanged in public on a wall as a warning to the rest of the citizens.

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Lesson 1. Republic of Gilead.

A theocratic, totalitarian state has overthrown the United States of America. A group called the Sons of Jacob with a radical political orientation, has successfully launched a revolution which has killed the President and slaughtered the Congress. The constitution of the United States of America has been suspended, and democracy has been replaced with military dictatorship. It is now known as the Republic of Gilead.  

The new repressive regime has taken control over all religious groups and started to impose Old Testament ideas over all. In this dystopian society, rights of citizens have diminished significantly, especially women. Women are barred from reading, writing and can no longer own property. They are now seen as what Simone de Beauvoir has termed as “the second sex”. As a result of commodification, they are now seen as mere reproductive units. They are valued only for their child bearing ability and that is considered to be the only purpose of their existence. Women have even been deprived of their individual identity: they are now ‘handmaids’, known only by their commanders’ names, who own them. 


Lesson 2. Introduction to Offred.

The Handmaid’s Tale comprises the first-person narrative of Offred, which isn’t her real name. Atwood uses flashback as a narrative technique. In the flashbacks, the reader witnesses the events leading up to the establishment of the nightmarish totalitarian regime. Before the Republic of Gilead came into existence, Offred had had an affair with a married man named Luke. He had divorced his wife and married Offred. The couple even had a child together. Offred’s mother was a feminist activist who had raised her single-handedly. Offred’s best friend, Moira, was a strong independent woman who was a radical feminist and a homosexual.

When Offred tried to escape with her family to Canada, they were caught by the Sons of Jacob. Offred was forcefully separated from her family. The Sons of Jacob captured Offred and her daughter. After this incident she never saw her family again. She believes that Luke is either dead or has been imprisoned. Subsequent to her capture, Offred’s marriage was declared invalid as Luke was divorced beforehand. She was sent to the re-education center where she was trained and disciplined by Aunt Lydia to be a concubine to the commanders. These commanders were unable to reproduce children because of old-age, pollution or some other reasons, including Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Moreover, Offred was one of the few fertile women in the Republic of Gilead, which had low reproduction rates. 

Lesson 3. The Two-legged Wombs.


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About the author

Margaret Atwood Image

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Atwood has won numerous awards including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Bo...

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Chapter List
  • Lesson 1. Republic of Gilead.
  • Lesson 2. Introduction to Offred.
  • Lesson 3. The Two-legged Wombs.
  • Lesson 4. Of Commanders. 
  • Lesson 5. The Metafictional Epilogue.
  • Lesson 6. Major Characters.
  • Lesson 7. Minor Characters.
  • Lesson 8. Themes.
  • Lesson 9. Genre.
  • Lesson 10. Feminist Dystopia.
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In the summary of The Handmaid’s Tale book, there are 10 key lessons. These lessons include:

  1. Lesson 1. Republic of Gilead.
  2. Lesson 2. Introduction to Offred.
  3. Lesson 3. The Two-legged Wombs.
  4. Lesson 4. Of Commanders. 
  5. Lesson 5. The Metafictional Epilogue.
  6. Lesson 6. Major Characters.
  7. Lesson 7. Minor Characters.
  8. Lesson 8. Themes.
  9. Lesson 9. Genre.
  10. Lesson 10. Feminist Dystopia.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was published in 1985.

Once you've completed The Handmaid’s Tale book, We suggest reading out Animal Farm as a great follow-up read.

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