Talk:The Handmaid's Tale

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Original Research?[edit]

This line: "In the novel, women are depicted as the property of men in both societies, in the United States as private property and in Gilead as social property." doesn't read like an objective summary from the text to me. While the main character was fairly passive even before Gilead, there's no indication that her legal status is that of 'property'. If it refers to the abrogation of women's rights to property, et c. that occur within the pre-Gilead timeframe, those are pretty clearly first steps to Gilead, not persistent aspects of the pre-Gilead USA. This reads to me like original criticism. Opinions?

LaPrecieuse (talk) 07:05, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

My reading of the character was more in line with your views, too. Others? --Doclit (talk) 17:53, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

Ditto to both of your ideas. Can someone please remove or change? (talk) 19:52, 18 June 2009 (UTC)

Adding a Spoiler Alert[edit]

I really feel the need for a spoiler alert on this page as reading just after the toc will immediately give away details of the book a visitor might not want to read.

I would do this myself, but i dont know how... —Preceding unsigned comment added by Bruno Barrera (talkcontribs) 06:09, 18 September 2008 (UTC)

Spoiler alerts are implied for all of Wikipedia. Encyclopedias are not expected to have spoiler alerts, why should Wikipedia be any different? (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 15:18, 23 February 2010 (UTC).

Satire and Science Fiction[edit]

I'm deeply unconvincted that the book is a satire, and not sue that it is science fiction. Any EngLit people wish to comment / edit? --Tagishsimon (talk)

From my copy of Webster:

satire: 1) A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit. 2) The branch of literature constituting such works. 3) Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.

Perhaps it isn't a textbook example of satire, but I think the word loosely fits. As far as it being science fiction I think a lot of that is in comparison to Atwood's other books, many of which are blatant sci-fi. I think Atwood's description of the US and Christianity in and of themselves within this book are a type of satire, whether or not they're comical in nature. --mixvio

I've only just started reading the book, but in general science fiction is a very broad genre and The Handmaid's Tale cound be said to fall within its blurry boundaries on account of being a sort of alternate history type story. It might be more appropriate to say "speculative fiction" (which encompasses science fiction, fantasy, etc.), but Margaret Atwood's name is pretty much the only thing that's keeping it out of the fantasy/science fiction section of your local bookstore. --nekoewen

I found it in the science fiction section of both my local Barns & Noble and my kitchy neighborhood bookstore. But then again I live in NYC. --mixvio
i think that speculative dystopic stories, for better or worse, tend to be lumped with sci-fi. Streamless 14:25, 31 January 2006 (UTC)
Speculative novels like this are at the very heart of science fiction ("sci-fi" is often considered a pejorative) literature, from Brave New World to 1984 to Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. The fact that they are often not treated as science fiction is a whole 'nother rant entirely. It's like putting Octavia Butler in the respectable, not-science-fiction section so you can talk about the things she discusses in her science fiction novels without getting any sci-fi cooties on you.--Orange Mike 16:11, 8 June 2006 (UTC)-- 16:09, 8 June 2006 (UTC)
The Handmaid's Tale won an award for best SF novel 1987 raptor 13:13, 2 July 2006 (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that Atwood herself actively rejects the term Science Fiction in describing the Handmaid's Tale, and she prefers the term Speculative Fiction, as the developments in the novel could easily occur today (i.e. they don't involve any technological innovation). However, the current description of dystopian fiction is probably the most accurate --Lord Pheasant 09:39, 26 October 2006 (UTC)
This is part of the broader topic I addressed before, the desire among "respectable" critics, academics and their allies to draw as narrow a circle as possible around the term 'science fiction' and to claim magic realism, dystopian and utopian fiction, alternative histories(a/k/a "contrafactuals") and so on as something separate from and superior to "that sci-fi crap" enjoyed by lesser beings; rather than admit that 'speculative fiction' is just a broader (and perhaps more prestigious-sounding) term for what most people know as the variegated genre of science fiction & fantasy.--Orange Mike 14:55, 26 October 2006 (UTC)
I'm a little more sympathetic to "desire among "respectable" critics, academics..." because that list includes many authors and their (nonprofessional) fans. Many would like more narrow definitions just for the sake of accuracy and truth in advertising. The sad reality is that marketing departments of book publishers do have over-riding representation and influence over the categorization of books, like it or not. The book is sold as sci-fi, in sci-fi sections of bookstores(online and offline)etc.,etc. Therefore it's justifiably labeled sci-fi. There's no need to dismiss the argument against the practice as snobbery- it's just a reality dictated by commerce.Cuvtixo (talk) 15:52, 5 June 2009 (UTC)
Handmaid's Tale is a dystopia, a sub-genre of utopia and as such by definition sci-fi. Even though most of us might not agree. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:35, 23 April 2008 (UTC)

To the end of the Plot:[edit]

"In this respect The Handmaid's Tale is similar to Egalia's Daughters by Gerd Brantenberg, Dune by Frank Herbert or The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien."

Absolutely shit! Why respect? And waht have these books to do with this novel? There shouldn´t be build a line to the masterworks "dune" and "LOTR" just because there are appendices at the end of the book!

I think that it's not a comparison of quality per se, but rather a way to recognise the underlying optimism even in despair that forms part of the novel; after all, if we didn't mention classic texts, the reader wouldn't be able to see the comparison! --Lord Pheasant 09:39, 26 October 2006 (UTC)

unencyclopedic comment moved to talk:[edit]

=== Analysis ===
Perhaps it's ironic that after the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack civil liberties in the US were severely restricted without people really noticing or caring. The Handmaid's Tale also described the great restriction placed on the people by the US government, who use attacks allegedly committed by 'Islamic fanatics' as an excuse. In the book, the lax attidude of the people towards losing their liberties is what paves the way for a religious revolution; as long as changes don't effect them on the short term, they won't care about the long term.

- Montréalais 02:49 Apr 5, 2003 (UTC)

If you want to include the Analysis paragraph in this article, please find some way to do so that's NPOV. Attacking the US government doesn't do that. -- Zoe

Yes, Zoe, I believe that's why I moved the thing to Talk. - Montrealais

Yes, Montrealais, but the paragraph was moved back to the article and I reverted it. -- Zoe
I fail to see how the US government is being attacked in the paragraph, but if you disagree with the contents of the paragraph, either change it till you no longer disagree, or put in a different opionion. Just moving the paragraph around does not accomplish anything.
I await your edits, but will leave the removal as is, for now. branko
It has nothing to do with whether "the US government is being attacked" in the paragraph. That's not the point. The point is that it is an opinion unqualified by any attribution. That's not NPOV- Montréalais 15:06 22 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I agree with Montréalais: that bit about 9/11 is pointless and has no place here.

I myself wrote a w/u for Everything2 a while ago in which I made the same comparison - but that was E2, this is Wiki. The comparison that SHOULD be pointed out in this article is to the Iranian revolution and the rise of the "moral majority" under Regan, as those things actually influenced the book. -- stewacide 15:18 22 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I'm not sure about this but shouldn't the fact that it was turned into a film and an opera come before the plot details and spoiler warning? Saul Taylor

Couldn't the ending also be seen as a kind of intellectual joke by Atwood? Suddenly she wrenches the narrative away from the timeframe of the rest of the book as if to say "ha ha, I'm not going to tell you how it ends because it's my book and I don't want to. Suckers!". That's how I read it, anyway. I rather like that anticlimax, though I know a lot of people simply choose to ignore the epilogue altogether. Bonalaw 13:07, 24 Jun 2004 (UTC)

I think Atwood was pointing to the fact that all histories and narratives are mediated - by time, by your own values, by emotion, and lastly by historians who arrange your words. An An 21:41, 9 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Novel's structure[edit]

The article really doesn't talk about the Book's extraordinary structure. At the end of the book she suggests that Offred has narrated the whole thing - stream of consciousness style - onto an assortment of Audio tapes, the intended order of which is unknown. (Perhaps actually joking that the work has been edited by the historians who found it). What we get is not of stream of consciousness at all, but a cleverly calculated structure - it begins by dropping us in to a bizaar world we can't understand, and bit by bit fleshes out detail in a clearly ordered way. The net result is that book works as a thriller.

Then we pull out to a wide historical focus in which the fate of one woman ceases to be so important - so Attwood does not tell us her heroine's fate. --Indisciplined 23:04, 13 July 2006 (UTC)


Is it too POV to say the character of Serena Joy was loosely based on Tammy Faye Bakker? Other websites have at least remarked on the resemblance...and I say it's quite blatant. Mike H 06:20, Nov 17, 2004 (UTC)

-- No, I think this was clearly Atwood's intention.

Iranian revolution[edit]

It is vital that some mention of this be made. This novel was definitely Atwood's attempt to say "it could happen here, too" about the Iranian revolution.

Well, unsigned person, please note this somewhere! I think its an excellent point to draw out. An An 22:56, 9 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Actually, Atwood herself, in an article in the New York Times, recently explained that it was her trip through Afghanistan in the 1970's that was the inspiration for the novel and its female subjugation theme. --Naidipuz 05:20, 6 January 2007 (UTC)

In the epilogue a reference is made to Iran, saying that both Gilead and Iran were 21st century theocracies if I remember correctly — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:33, 6 October 2011 (UTC)



Subjection Main Entry: 3sub·ject Pronunciation: s&b-'jekt, 's&b-"jekt Function: transitive verb 1 a : to bring under control or dominion : SUBJUGATE b : to make (as oneself) amenable to the discipline and control of a superior 2 : to make liable : PREDISPOSE 3 : to cause or force to undergo or endure (something unpleasant, inconvenient, or trying) <was subjected to constant verbal abuse> - sub·jec·tion /s&b-'jek-sh&n/ noun

Subjugation Main Entry: sub·ju·gate Pronunciation: 's&b-ji-"gAt Function: transitive verb Inflected Form(s): -gat·ed; -gat·ing Etymology: Middle English, from Latin subjugatus, past participle of subjugare, from sub- + jugum yoke -- more at YOKE 1 : to bring under control and governance as a subject : CONQUER 2 : to make submissive : SUBDUE - sub·ju·ga·tion /"s&b-ji-'gA-sh&n/ noun - sub·ju·ga·tor /'s&b-ji-"gA-t&r/ noun

They're similar words, but I thibk subjection (3) is what Offred is undergoing. She is consicous, and she is made to endure. She never internally submits to the system.An An 23:22, 9 Mar 2005 (UTC)

I was one of the people who edited Subjection to Subjugation. I now favour Subjection for the reasons listed above.Fifelfoo 01:20, 10 Mar 2005 (UTC)
That's lovely then. Did you fix it, or shall I? An An 05:25, 10 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Why Subjection? To use subjection would completely remove meaning from the subtitle - 'subjugation' is a fairly self-contained verb, but with just 'subjection', the title isn't actually saying what she's subject to. --Lord Pheasant 09:39, 26 October 2006 (UTC)

Are the "Marthas" of African descent?[edit]

Someone added the statement that they were, and someone else reverted it right back out. I don't have any hard-and-fast evidence to offer one way or the other, but the statement that they *ARE* of African descent always matched my impression. Does anyone know for sure? Or is it time to read the book gain? (Obviously, the answer may turn out to be "Some, in fact, an over-represntation are, but some aren't."

Atlant 14:26, 23 Mar 2005 (UTC)

When we did analysis in our English class, we concluded that Cora and Rita, at least, were black, but other Marthas were not explicitly black. I think it wouldn't be wrong to state that there is much evidence to conclude that Cora and Rita were black women. Mike H 07:16, Mar 25, 2005 (UTC)
The "Children of Ham" (negroes) were all "resettled". This is alluded to in chapter 14 (part 4), the moments before the ceremony when the household watch TV waiting for the Commander. Its page 93 in 1995 Virago Press edition. There are no statements in the book to the effect that the Marthas are negroes, and if there are, I would like to see them reproduced here. The idea that it "fits" the marthas that they are black may be more easily attributed to points of view which equate black skin with domestic slavery (i.e. mainstream American ideology, to name but one). An An 09:05, 26 Mar 2005 (UTC)
It was never explicitly stated in the text that Cora and Rita were black, but their speech patterns in the novel were not on par with the other white characters. I guess that could be interpreted a number of ways (common white?) but that was the conclusion we drew. Mike H 10:55, Mar 26, 2005 (UTC)
There were also examples of other kinds of people who were believed to be completely resettled but weren't. I can think of religious minorities who were originally supposed to be sent away but chose to live under the new laws, only to be found practicing their religion in private (say, the Jews, who had the option of taking a boat back to Israel, unlike the other minorities). Mike H 10:58, Mar 26, 2005 (UTC)
On reading the first chapters, the Martha's immediatley struck me as African American women. However, I think that has to do more with my perception of the culture seen in the USA. I also read it to be in the USA, without knowing anything about the book at all. Personally, I think this is a cultural perception rather than something that is seen explicitly in the novel.00:35, 10 November 2005 (UTC)
If you're saying that your reading of it as being set in the former US is a "cultural projection", then, no, that's not the case. The story is unambiguously set in the Cambridge/Boston area and explicit references are made to many of the existing geographic/commercial features that exist today. But if you're speaking of the Marthas being A-A as a cultural projection, then you may be right. I guess I'll just have to read the book again. :-) Or we could wait and see how Bushworld actually evolves. :-(
Atlant 12:48, 10 November 2005 (UTC)
Okay, I read the book again. And right there on Page 12 (in my eddition), it makes explicit reference to the "brown arms" of the dominant Martha. So regardless of whether the "Children of Ham" were generally resettled, I think we still have pretty good evidence that Fred's two Marthas were, in fact, African Americans before the Gileadean revolution. But I agree that there's no evidence that all Marthas are (were) A-A.
Atlant 18:24, 12 September 2006 (UTC)
The "brown arms" may simply be swarthy, or suntanned; "brown" is a very ambiguously broad term in English, and indeed it may be argued that the vast majority of the human race is some shade of "brown" (broadly defined). This is a weak reed to lean on. Orange Mike 23:35, 13 September 2006 (UTC)
In the same section where Atwood describes Rita's arms as brown (p. 10 in 1st ed.), there is a conversation between Cora and Rita. Cora says "If I hadn't of got my tubes tied, it could of been me, say I was ten years younger." Her age and tubal ligation kept her from being a Handmaid, not her skin color. It seems that in a society where African Americans are "resettled," they wouldn't have the option of becoming Handmaids and making a new generation. Leakyowl (talk) 17:27, 16 May 2014 (UTC)
Perhaps the speech patterns are working class, or servile class? Speech doesn't mean skin colour, and it is not enough to say that the speech is low-class so these women are black. Cora and Rita are the only Marthas that we hear speak at all - so there can be no determination of whether their speech is typical of their caste.
As for the "resettlement" attempts - Atwood makes it clear that these may be (and probably are) falsified for propaganda purposes. Whether negroes were murdered (as the epilogue asserts that jews were) or actually resettled is not in contention. Marthas are not possitively identified as negroes by Atwood, and any assertion that they are needs to be substantiated. An An 12:11, 26 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Rita's brown arms maybe be a result of work, exposure to the heat of the ovens or the sun. It may be a symbol of the effects of work on her body. Cora says to Rita that she could have been selected as a handmaid, given different circumstances (ch 2). If Cora were negro, this would be incompatible to a society sufficiently fixated on racial purity to 'resettle' negroes and jews. On a broader note, why is it necessary to state that "all marthas are black", when there is at best conflicting evidence to this effect? An An 11:12, 28 Mar 2005 (UTC)

FWIW, In the movie, they were both white. Carolynparrishfan 19:41, 17 December 2005 (UTC)

biblical refrences[edit]

hello all as an access student i am witing an essay on the campative qualities of the handmaids tale and genesis chapter 1-4 including adam and eve does anyone have any views on the subject bex

No, bex, I have no views on anything campative here or elsewhere. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:52, 17 May 2011 (UTC)


I was puzzled by the part of the article that mentions male unwomen. Could someone point out to me where in the book this is mentioned? I wasn't aware of it even being implied. 12:36, 19 January 2006 (UTC)

Offred mentions that anyone sent to the Colonies is an "Unwoman" and that being forced to wear long grey dresses is supposed to demoralize them. (Alphaboi867 02:33, 8 June 2006 (UTC))
Should "widows" be removed from the Unwoman category as the text does not say they are banished and Offred sees one in chapter 5? raptor 10:11, 3 July 2006 (UTC)
Yeah, I've read the book about three times and I'm not sure I ever read a reference to widows being shipped to the colonies - if I'm wrong, can someone please cite the quote for me?

When Offred is talking to Moira at Jezebel's (chapter 38) Moira recounts seeing a film about the Colonies:

"It's old women--I bet you've been wondering why you haven't seen too many of those around anymore--...I'd say it's about a quarter men in the Colonies, too."
Widows are former Wives. The old women in the colonies are likely elderly Marthas, and maybe Econowives. But Commander's Wives are not shipped off, they just become Widows and probably don't leave the house much. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:53, 6 September 2009 (UTC)

Feminist social critique[edit]

I am quite shocked that in the section of the article that describes the social critique in the book, critique of the oppression of women in modern society isn't mentioned. This book is first and foremore a feminist book. I find that it maps out very accurately society's perceptions about women, their gender roles and acceptable (as well as unacceptable) behaviour.

Anyone up for adding this aspect to the article?

Silentium 12:58, 14 May 2006 (UTC)

It sounds like you are ;-) ! Be bold!
Atlant 16:39, 8 June 2006 (UTC)
Remember to cite your sources - a link to a review describing the book as feminist would be good! — QuantumEleven 12:34, 26 July 2006 (UTC)
Is it "social oppression" to deny women hand cream and cause them to resort to using a pat of butter to soften the skin of their hands? Who says that Atwood is a stranger to irony? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:56, 17 May 2011 (UTC)

Merge proposal[edit]

Republic of Gilead is a copy-paste of large parts of this article - I think just about the only thing in the article that isn't in The Handmaid's Tale is the flag of Gilead. I propose that Republic of Gilead be changed to a redirect to The Handmaid's Tale, as I don't see enough information being found to be put into the former article which doesn't also belong in the latter. Opinions, anyone? — QuantumEleven 12:37, 26 July 2006 (UTC)

I'm okay with that.
Atlant 18:00, 26 July 2006 (UTC)

This was recently discussed Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Republic of Gilead and the outcome was that Republic of Gilead stays. Jayvdb 05:34, 28 July 2006 (UTC)

Yes, but AfD decides on Keep/Delete, not Keep/Merge. To be fair, there is no reason for an article where the only element not already present in another article is a picture should be kept separate. I'm going to merge. — QuantumEleven 13:22, 28 July 2006 (UTC)
Please read the AfD; merge, redirect or keep were all considered but keep was the final outcome. I am not disputing that the duplication is undesirable, but merging is the simple way out. Also, the flag of The Republic of Gilead does not belong on this article about the book. It belongs on the film. Jayvdb 23:04, 28 July 2006 (UTC)

Offred's job[edit]

I would like to challenge this comment:

"In the former society, despite holding a University degree from an unspecified North American University (which is implied to be Harvard University), Offred was a menial white collar worker"

Offred's job is a librarian, which requires at least a college degree and often an MA/MLS as well? I'm not sure a librarian is a menial white collar worker? That aside, I'm also sure that it wouldn't be unusual for any graduate to end up doing menial adminstrative work, I'm not sure there is any feminist critique to be read into that.

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by LouiseCooke (talkcontribs) .

I'd support your changes. Atlant 18:20, 12 September 2006 (UTC)
This is POV, but the wages paid to librarians, compared to the educational requirements, would indicate that they are regarded as menial white collar workers. --Orange Mike 16:15, 21 December 2006 (UTC) (formerly of AFSCME locals 1, 82 and 91)

Judaism in the novel[edit]

Jews do not seem to be treated as ethnically different in Gilead. If they have converted to Christianity, they are not considered a problem. The jews who are hanged are ones who are secretly following their faith. It is difference of faith, not race, here. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by LouiseCooke (talkcontribs) .

I agree.
Atlant 18:20, 12 September 2006 (UTC)

"In the novel, the two main non-white ethnic groups mentioned are African Americans and Jewish Americans..." Perhaps I'm mistaken, but it is my impression that Jewish Americans are not an ethnic group, but a religious group. The ethnic group would be Hebrews. Hebrews, are white, no? Am I mistaken here? Were they Beta Israel? 17:30, 17 July 2006 (UTC)

I don't know if it's one or the other, but on my reading of the book it was a little religious, as well as a little ethnic. While they were allowed to convert, they were also described as 'sons of Jacob', which would imply their identification based on lineage, and therefore ethnicity, rather than religion. So I'd say keep it there. --Lord Pheasant 09:39, 26 October 2006 (UTC)

Reference to Baptists[edit]

I understand that Atwood is clearly warning of the rise of religious fundamentalism in denominations including the Baptists. But - I would say that it is misleading to mention the Baptists in the article since in the novel they are explicitly mentioned in the novel as fighting against Gilead. Additionally, it would probably be more NPOV to not include a specific denomination. For the reference to Iran, I propose changing it to the actual Iranian theocracy, since it is often cited as a strong influence on Gileadean society. So yeah, any thoughts? --Lord Pheasant 09:39, 26 October 2006 (UTC)

It seems to be a tradition among spec-fi writers that, when warning against impending dystopian theocracy, you take care to rule out the most obvious real-life candidaates who resemble the bad guys you're writing about. So Atwood mentions the Baptists as fighting *against* the Gileadites. Likewise, Robert A. Heinlein, in his "If This Goes On -" (repub as "Revolt in 2010"], describes a US theocracy headed by a polygamous Prophet. Just as you're thinking "Aha, this is the Mormons", Heinlein throws in a passing mention that the Prophet's armies are fighting against Mormon separatists in Utah.

More about "If This Goes On"[edit]

There are actually a number of parallels between this book and Heinlein's "If this goes on". (1) Both describe theocracies led by a self-proclaimed Prophet. (2) the story is narrated by a servant of a high-ranking official (in Heinlein's case, one of the Prophet's bodyguards) who is able to describe the ruling class "from the inside". (3) the narrator, fully loyal at first, falls afoul of the rulers because of an illicit love affair (4) He/she escapes and narrates the story from refuge.

If THE HANDMAID's TALE is an important book, Heinlein should get more credit for antipating it. CharlesTheBold 14:27, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

First of all, please add your comments to the bottom of the talk page in the future; it is easier to read and comprehend users' comments when they are chronological. Second of all, what you are suggesting seems to be original research; if you can find a reliable, trustworthy source that the novels are related, then it could be added to the article. Without it, however, the statements are WP:OR. María: (habla conmigo) 14:32, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
It's also a very dubious proposition. Heinlein was writing from a different background, with a different perspective (especially in sexual politics), in an era when religious extremism was a trivial element in American mainstream politics. These are structural coincidences, many of them due to plotting exigencies. RAH, however one feels about him, is irrelevant to this book. (As is Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue, a vastly superior novel on the same topic which is ignored because Dr. Elgin is an admitted science fiction author, rather than a "mainstream" writer dabbling in SF while denying that she does so.) --Orange Mike 14:44, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Thanks, Orange Mike; I wasn't familiar with Heinlein, but it sounded rather iffy even with my lack of experience. Thanks for the SciFi lesson. :) (ps: fixed your link to NT because it lead to an album of the same name.) María: (habla conmigo) 14:50, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for the link fix. (Since you don't know the field, I understand that you didn't realize that the term "sci-fi" [however spelled]] is generally regarded as pejorative within the science fiction community, and should be avoided.) --Orange Mike 15:13, 30 March 2007 (UTC)


I really hate this book, but I do think there should be some mention of the Salvaging that takes place in it. MosheA 02:38, 27 November 2006 (UTC)

Sarah and Hagar[edit]

"Due to Sarah's reproductive generosity, Sarah's fertility is restored by God at an advanced age."

The restoration of Sarah's fertility in the Bible has more than one interpretation. Sarah is not particularly kind to Hagar. Hagar and her son run away once, come back, and are banished by Sarah years later. If the above, that Sarah's ability to have a child was a reward for kindness to Hagar, is the interpretation presented by Offred/Atwood, then we should say so. Darkfrog24 20:49, 9 March 2007 (UTC)

Science Fiction?[edit]

I note that the sidebar lists this novel's genre as "science fiction". To me, this really does not fit, as it describes more of the Star Trek type thing than the content discussed in this novel.

I'm really not sure what this novel is. I'll think about it for a bit. It certainly does not deserve to be lumped in with sci-fi. 02:06, 19 April 2007 (UTC)

This is covered in an earlier section of this talk page, and the sub-genre 'dystopian' is the best proposed so far. If you can think of a better one, by all means change it again. John Vandenberg 02:46, 19 April 2007 (UTC)
It is a dystopian science fiction novel. Please do not allow your prejudices to blind you to the broad variety of works that fall within the genre of science fiction, from 1984, Brave New World and Aniara to The Dispossessed, The Road, and, yes, The Handmaid's Tale. --Orange Mike 13:23, 19 April 2007 (UTC)
What makes it Science Fiction is the presumption of ecological collapse and a negative effect on human fertility. It is near Future Science Fiction the same way the film Children of Men is Near Future Science Fiction. Both are Dystopias. WHile the emphaisis in this novel is on the scoietal effects of these catastrophic changes, the changes nevrtheless took place and seemingly precipitated the societal shift.LiPollis 12:05, 2 May 2007 (UTC)

This is Speculative Fiction! Not science fiction! Atwood herself said it! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:43, 17 January 2011 (UTC)

..since the Inquisition[edit] has removed a statement that implied that the Inquisition reflects the society in the novels plot. There is some truth in this comparison to the Inquisition, but the comparison needs to be attributable to a critical review. Note that the removed statement comes from this section rewrite by John Vandenberg 09:45, 2 May 2007 (UTC)

Bizarre graffiti[edit]

There seems to be a lot of weird graffiti in this article (e.g., "Five are mentioned - Alma, Janine, Dolores, your ugly cause danas better Moira, and June.". Perhaps it should be locked? —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Flycandler (talkcontribs).

Just your average juvenile time-wasting vandalism :-(. Wiki policy wouldn't support protecting the article just for this level of vandalism; I've reverted it. If you haven't already done so, you may want to read Wikipedia:Vandalism to learn more about how to deal with vandalism of the encyclopedia.
Atlant 17:07, 11 June 2007 (UTC)

Material clipped from the article and brought here[edit]

This article is incorrect, Gilead (more correctly, New Gilead) is not named it the opening paragraphs until a point at which the reader has no information, but is expected to know what has not been introduced. This article does not make sense to a reader who has not read the book. Furthermore, New Gilead is not the territory that was previously the United States, (set up by wild theocratic christians) it is one of many puppet state governmental sects that once was the United States, each with its own belief system (evidence of this can be noted when Offred hears news of babtist and anglican revolts.) The entire territory of the U.S. is broken into many, maybe hundreds of religious sects. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Cessnasoarer172 (talkcontribs)

Serena Joy[edit]

The article suggests that Serena Joy is similar to Tammy Faye Bakker. It is true that Tammy Faye Bakker is an example of a female tele-evangelist and the character of Serena Joy is probably a composite of many anti-feminist women of the early 80's. However, I think a better analogy for Serena Joy is Anita Bryant ( Bryant began her career as an evangelical entertainer and then moved on to political activism.

Serena Joy says in chapter 3 "It's one of the things we fought for" [the legal structure that enforces the first marriage being in place until death of both partners] and then Offred remembers seeing Serena Joy on television in a gospel choir. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Amspeck (talkcontribs) 17:23, 14 February 2008 (UTC)

Boston / Cambridge[edit]

Shouldn't the article make mention of the fact (as previously stated here) that the story is set in the Boston / Cambridge area, and specifically around Harvard Square and the Harvard campus / Charles river area?

--chrisfeohpatti —Preceding comment was added at 16:15, 24 June 2008 (UTC)

Regarding the Ceremony Quote[edit]

The original quote, as found in the book, uses the word "fucking" rather than "doing". As stated in Wikipedia:Profanity, a direct quote trumps Wikipedia's disdain for foul language. -- (talk) 21:28, 5 August 2008 (UTC)

Good work. Some editors might disdain foul language, but Wikipedia does not (and can not). The censorship you fixed was done by an anonymous user, (talk · contribs). I have removed that same censorship in the past, incidentally by the same IP address. − Twas Now ( talkcontribse-mail ) 16:49, 6 August 2008 (UTC)


Not sure this will go anywhere, but a parent of a Toronto District School Board student is asking that this book no longer be assigned reading. --Padraic 12:58, 16 January 2009 (UTC)


Greetings. Not sure I'm contributing properly, but I'm sure if I'm not, someone will tell me.

The following paragraphs are confusing:

"Offred is a patronymic which describes her function: she is "Of Fred", i.e. she belongs to her Commander, Fred, as a concubine (see slave name). It is implied that her birth name is Kate. All of the women training to be handmaids recite their names, and all are later accounted for except June. In addition, one of the Aunts tells Offred to stop "mooning and June-ing". It may well be a pseudonym, as "Mayday" is the name of the Gilead resistance and could be an attempt on the protagonist's part to invent a name; the Nunavit conference that takes place in the epilogue is held in June. [1].... It is speculated that Offred's real name is June. At the end of the first chapter she mentions the names of a few other women who are attending the women's academy. They whisper names across the bed at night. The names are "Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June." Throughout the book, we meet all the characters named, except June. It is speculated that "Kate" is the main character, who never mentions her name in the book."

The second paragraph above contains redundant information, making me think two separate contributors entered the info, possibly copying and pasting from another source. In addition, the character Kate does not appear anywhere in the book. Kate was a name made up for the movie version. The narrator, as mentioned in both of the above paragraphs, is most likely June. At least that's my read, and I've read this novel dozens of times since 1985.

Also, the name of the resistance organization Mayday is unlikely to be related to June, as in the book the narrator clearly recalls that the etymology of the word 'mayday' is from the French m'aidez—help me. Someone who only saw the movie might not have gotten that nuance.

I guess the summary of my comment is that I thought this was a page on the novel, not the movie adaptation, and mention of a character named Kate doesn't fit here. If someone can show me anywhere in the book where Kate is mentioned, I'd sure like to see it. Bucinka (talk) 23:09, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

Offred is NOT a patronymic![edit]

A patronymic is "based on the name of one's father, grandfather or an even earlier male ancestor". Thus, "Offred" doesn't qualify since Fred is not an ancestor. (Yes, I know the novel calls it a patronymic. It's still wrong.) We should acknowledge that the novel calls it a patronymic, but shouldn't we point out that it in fact is not? The practice is actually much closer to a slave name, especially Roman forms like "Marcipor" (from "Marci puer", "Marcus's boy") being the slave of Marcus. Vultur (talk) 21:51, 23 March 2009 (UTC)

Citation Errors[edit]

In this article, after nearly every paragraph, there is a "citation needed" mark. These are completely unnecessary, as the content of those paragraphs is factual information from the book itself, so an outside source is irrelevant. Unless this editor wants to go through the entire novel themselves and make citations, they should be removed. Carl wilhoyte (talk) 19:31, 8 June 2009 (UTC)

Citations to primary and/or secondary sources documenting the information in this article are still needed; page references to an edition of the novel used throughout should have been supplied by the editors adding the information about it. For Wik. policies, see WP:V, WP:NOR, and WP:CITE; there is no way to verify this information without proper source citations (page references if printed sources, like the novel) and (if online sources) URLs w/ full citation information following prevailing citation format of the article. I did not provide this content initially, and I am not able to provide citations for it; those editors who may have consulted an edition or editions of the novel need to return to provide their sources (page references); an edition of the novel is provided in the Works cited list. Citations to its pages are still needed. Otherwise, there is no way to gauge the reliability of the claims about the novel in this article. If secondary sources were used by other editors and not identified properly, the result is plagiarism: see Wikipedia:Plagiarism. If the editors created the content themselves, that is original research; see WP:NOR. Wikipedia requires documentation (source citations) for its content. The templates indicate that citations are needed. --NYScholar (talk) 23:32, 8 June 2009 (UTC)

Nonsense. Rather than lifting a litany of policy (and thus wikilawyering), have one simple citation message at the top of the page. Adding a citation tag for every single line is petty and un-necessary. I will remove them myself if you don't, since all it does is make more work for future editors to have to delete every un-necessary cite tag. SiberioS (talk) 19:35, 9 June 2009 (UTC)
And, for the record, since you are unable and unwilling to furnish the citations your shotgun blast of them is even more egregious. Since I actually have the novel I guess I'll actually do the work of filling out most of sections. SiberioS (talk) 19:38, 9 June 2009 (UTC)
Well, NYScholar is now permanently blocked. I brought this up on the village pump, and got pointed to the discussion on the WP:How to write a plot summary talk page here. So long as you are just summarising and not adding research or synthesising etc. then the subject of the page is implicitly assumed to be the reference. EasyTarget (talk) 14:40, 31 July 2009 (UTC)
I have cleaned out the worst of the citation tag spam; there is no need to have a section cite-needed tag AND tag every single statement with an inline tag, even if some of the info needs citations. keɪɑtɪk flʌfi (talk) 18:48, 5 August 2009 (UTC)

Science Fiction vs Speculative Fiction[edit]

This section is based primarily on what appears to be an amateur blog by David Langford. Not only does the section lack proper tone, it is mostly just a long quote from this dubious source. I think that the section needs extensive revision, and that David Langford should not be cited as a credible source. (talk) 05:40, 5 November 2009 (UTC)

I deleted the references to the dubious source, added a hyperlink to "the guardian." (talk) 05:48, 5 November 2009 (UTC)

That's not "an amateur blog", that's a column by a multiple-Hugo-winning author, (a/k/a User:DeafMan here in Wikipedia, incidentally), in a notable publication. In the science fiction/speculative fiction, there is no more reliable source than Langford! --Orange Mike | Talk 18:19, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
Dave Langford most assuredly is a proper source, per Orange Mike. Artw (talk) 18:50, 5 November 2009 (UTC)


There was a reference in the section about Offred to the decorative pillow (the one with the word "Faith" embroidered into it) in her room. It mentions her "hiding it" whenever someone entered the room and Offred "living in terror" that the stitching would be ripped out. This isn't accurate at all since Offred actually indicates that she thinks there are two other pillows that should go with it and that the Marthas probably have them. Why would she hide them if Serena Joy decorated the house and presumably knows about them, or if she thinks other members of the household have matching pillows in their rooms? I removed it because it made no sense. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:27, 23 February 2010 (UTC)

"Related works by other authors"[edit]

User:Jneil, who readily admits that he is J. Neil Schulman, author and now publisher of The Rainbow Cadenza, has repeatedly added his book to this article. I've removed it both because of the conflict of interest issue and because I don't see the connection between Handmaid's Tale and Schulman's book. --Orange Mike | Talk 14:23, 6 May 2010 (UTC)

This is J. Neil Schulman -- User: Jneil -- author of The Rainbow Cadenza. I understand the conflict of interest objection. I therefore challenge Orangemike to read both The Rainbow Cadenza (published 1983 by Simon and Schuster, and recipient of the 1984 Prometheus Award) and The Handmaid's Tale (published 1985 by McClelland and Stewart, and nominated for a subsequent Prometheus Award) then come back to this page and assert, once again, that The Handmaid's Tale isn't NOTABLY derivative of The Rainbow Cadenza. Orangemike says on his Wikipedia User page he's a fan of science fiction; this should be fun for him. I'll go so far as to provide Orangemike with a complimentary PDF copy of The Rainbow Cadenza for this purpose. I only need a way to message him privately to accomplish that. I can be emailed at

If Orangemike is unwilling to take up this challenge, I suggest that he is not qualified to edit the Wikipedia pages of novels he has not read. I'm sure there's a rule about that somewhere, or should be. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Jneil (talkcontribs) 09:58, 8 May 2010 (UTC)

Jneil, you can't expect people to read a whole novel just to disprove an editor, and even if he did, he is not a reliable source, so his opinion would not count. The easiest way for you to get this included is to find some Notable 3rd party that has claimed that THT is derivative of your book. If you can't do this, then I'm afraid the point is probably not notable. Ashmoo (talk) 16:49, 30 November 2010 (UTC)

Major overhaul[edit]

This article needs a major overall. While most of it is obviously written by people that care about the topic and is pretty reasonable, it is unfortunately too focused on (unsourced) analysis and reconstruction facts about the world Atwood has created and not enough on the basic facts. For example, the plot summary contains almost no mention of the plot, but is rather a description of the world in which the novel takes place, as well as a few asides into the real name of the character amongst others. I see there has been fact tags on many of the bolder assertions for over a year. I'm going to start removing unsourced claims. Ashmoo (talk) 09:26, 29 November 2010 (UTC)

Thanks for taking the initiative in this. I have edited the plot summary a little to reflect your concerns. I don't think it's feasible to delete too much of the info about Gilead in the summary, as that is so much what the book is really about, and the summary doesn't make enough sense if the world it contains is not described. But I deleted some of the info about the epilogue and added a bit about what Offred spent the novel doing. Let me know what you think and if you need help with the overhaul.QuizzicalBee (talk) 20:02, 29 November 2010 (UTC)
Your changes look good, thanks. I agree that the plot summary needs to make sense, but I think we should make it represent the experience of reading the book as much as is possible. In the book (from my memory of last reading it) you are given the details about Gilead piecemeal but it is still understandable as a story. Her isolation and information deficit is a key part of the story. So basically, I feel another section should be used to synthesise the nature of the novel's world and the plot summary should summarise the story. Which is what you have done, so I've got no complaint. Ashmoo (talk) 16:41, 30 November 2010 (UTC)
How about if we do what is done for Nineteen Eighty-Four? They have a "background" second that describes the dystopia, and a "plot" section that summarizes the plot.QuizzicalBee (talk) 21:50, 5 December 2010 (UTC)
I think that is definitely the way to do it. Ashmoo (talk) 15:15, 3 March 2011 (UTC)

Prof Pieixoto description[edit]

There's a bit of a dispute about this, with one person not wanting to mention the jokes that the prof tells, arguing that it's just a guy telling a few jokes and there's no deeper meaning. However, such an assertion is a point of view. That is, your point of view is that the jokes this guy say don't matter. It is not up to you to make that determination. A bare description of what the professor does is relevant and consistent with all of the other descriptions of characters in the novel and should not be removed. To deliberately remove it with the argument that it is irrelevant is to attempt to propagate a point of view. Therefore, it should be left in. I reworded it so that what was said there would not express a point of view (the POV being that the prof. was insensitive of the women's plight and objectified them by referring to their "tail" and that they're "frails"). What remains should be acceptable to all and express NPOV. However, just to address your POV for a sec: these aren't just jokes that guys giving talks at symposia say. There is no "guy". These are characters Margaret Atwood invented and she very carefully chose everything about them. She had a point in mind by choosing to have the framing device at the end of the novel in which people comment on the events of the novel. And she put words into the mouths of these characters, deliberately having them make jokes at the Handmaid's expense. By doing so, Atwood was making a point. Therefore the jokes this character said aren't "just" anything--they're very carefully planned and DO have meaning. There's no doubt that Atwood wanted to put into question sexist comments of this sort. You're missing the whole point of the novel if you dismiss the insensitive comments Atwood put into the mouth of her character by saying they're meaningless. Imagine if you went to a conference on slavery in the United States, and there was a lecture on slave owners raping slaves and then taking the subsequent babies away from the mothers, never to be seen again. Now imagine that the lecturer joked about the slave owners getting some "tail" and that the raped slaves were frails. These are not jokes that would ever be appropriate in any professional setting, and would be greatly criticized as being appallingly inappropriate. QuizzicalBee (talk) 06:32, 27 February 2011 (UTC)

  • Several of Pieixoto’s comments suggest Nunavit is a sexist society that regards the treatment of women in Gilead with more humor than horror. First he makes a joke around the words tale and tail, in reference to Gilead women. Then he refers to the “The Underground Femaleroad” as “The Underground Frailroad”.
The former text (which I removed) was IMHO wholly unacceptable. Somehow the two jokes of Pieixoto are more than enough material/evidence that we can classify/judge/evaluate his whole (fictional/future) Nunavit society. IMHO that's just educated speculation: Pieixoto makes two jokes and someone reached the conclusion that his whole society is sexist. Using one of your sentences: It is not up to [us) to make that determination. I wish to point out that us means the article of Wikipedia, as every reader is certainly free to reach his own conclusions but he has to know that different ppl will reach different convulsions, having different options about the jokes. I think that you agree that the former sentence above had to be removed.
  • While speaking at the symposium, he treats the plight of women in Gilead with humor, making several jokes about women's women's bodies.
I like to be honest, so here it goes:
We can go on and on if his jokes are about the plight of women and about their bodies and what's the meaning of the jokes. However our interpretations are just our own conclusions and little else. The questions is: Should our own conclusions be in this article? IMHO Pieixoto is not treating the plight of women in Gilead with humor, making several jokes about women's women's bodies. First of all, he doesn't make several jokes, he tells only two jokes: one about the title of the novel (the tail-joke) and another about the female underground road (the frail-joke). He is the orator at a lecture and tells two jokes to his audience. AFAIK almost all long speeches begin with a couple of jokes and we have to analyse the situation very carefully.
As a matter of fact I personally think that the two jokes matter a lot (you jumped to the wrong conclusion). I think that they are meant to show that at the end a society like Gilead is meant to fail in the long run but that a certain degree of misogyny will always exist.
Extrapolating this further: one of the many points of the novel might be to show that oppressive societies (which oppress women) may exist for a time under extreme situations (the Gilead situation is very extreme). However in the long run such societies are doomed to be replaced by better/more equal societies but a perfect society is probably impossible (two sexes = two different kinds of treatment; the degree of the difference may vary but true equality is impossible). I might be wrong in my conclusions but notice that my opinion is as worthy as yours (I never claim that my conclusions are prefect).
  • In the end we have to ask ourselves is if our opinions/conclusions/judgements should be in the article at all. IMHO they shouldn't be; the reader should read the book himself and find his own truth (reach his own conclusions). Flamarande (talk) 17:02, 27 February 2011 (UTC)
    • OK, I see where you're coming from. Thanks for clarifying. Yes, I agree our opinions have no place in the article per NPOV policy.QuizzicalBee (talk) 19:26, 27 February 2011 (UTC)

The fate of Jews[edit]

In the epilogue, the professor states that "more than one boatload" of Jews were just dumped into the ocean; I changed the text in that paragraph to make it explicit that not all of them were murdered, but that at least some of them were. Samer (talk) 17:14, 18 March 2011 (UTC)

Native American successor nation[edit]

Per this source [1], after the fall of Gilead, Native American culture experiences a resurgence and Native Americans become a prominent party in the post-Gilead area.

The world of 2195 is one in which women once again assume positions of authority, in which Native North American peoples are evidently part of dominant North American culture

I've also found references to this in several other locations, including study guides of the book itself. We've had two reverts by a single user, so probably should discuss it here [2] [3]. -OberRanks (talk) 18:02, 15 May 2011 (UTC)

  • The former version "The novel epilogue strongly implies that, following the collapse of the Republic of Gilead, a new society run primarily by Native Americans rose to take its place." [4] is IMHO largely speculative and therefore unacceptable.
  • The present version The novel epilogue also implies that, following the collapse of the Republic of Gilead, a new society emerged where woman again held authority and Native Americans were part of the dominant culture. [5] is a step in the right direction.
  • I suggest that we improve it further into The novel epilogue suggests that, following the collapse of the Republic of Gilead, a more equal society re-emerged where women and Native Americans are full members of society. It's further suggested that freedom of religion was also re-established.
In the end it's a matter of the details.
The epilogue is a fictional international gathering of historians in Nunavit. The person in charge of this gathering is Prof Maryann Crescent Moon who gives a small opening speech. In it she mentions a certain Prof. Johnny Running Dog among a couple of other academics. Then she gives the floor to the main lecturer, a certain Prof. James Darcy Pieiexoto from the University of Cambridge, England. Read his speech carefully: he mentions that the building of a new Quacker temple led to the discovery of other unrelated documents (that suggests that freedom of religion was re-established).
There is no statement about the system of the new (after-Gilead) government, its ethnic demographics, etc. The gathering doesn't begin with a native American ceremony. Only two professors have Native American names, and notice that one of them (Maryann Crescent Moon) uses an English given name. IMHO the terms used by the lecturers don't suggest that the new society has a different cultural basis. There is no condemnation of the former WASP society and no statements how the (supposedly) new Native American society is somehow better because stands upon Native American culture. How can we be sure that the new society is run primarily by Native Americans? We simply can't. Flamarande (talk) 16:55, 16 May 2011 (UTC)
I like your third suggestion. Thank you for giving my comments due consideration. -OberRanks (talk) 17:00, 16 May 2011 (UTC)

Merge from Republic of Gilead[edit]

Republic of Gilead is mostly synthesis from the story and is unsourced (and has been for years). Some small summary should be added here, instead. --Buck 01:16, 28 August 2011 (UTC)

Strongly support - but see prior AfD referenced above. --Orange Mike | Talk 18:51, 27 September 2011 (UTC)

Moira's Bisexuality?[edit]

The article says that "An important aspect of Moira is her bisexuality". Pretty sure I remember Moira being explicitly described as gay intext, what justification is there for describing her as bisexual? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:33, 29 January 2013 (UTC)