The Handmaid's Tale
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Cover of the first edition
|Cover artist||Tad Aronowicz, design; Gail Geltner, collage (first edition, hardback)|
|Publisher||McClelland and Stewart|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
|Followed by||The Testaments|
The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, originally published in 1985. It is set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian state resembling a theonomy that overthrows the United States government. The novel focuses on the journey of the handmaid Offred. Her name derives from the possessive form "of Fred"; handmaids are forbidden to use their birth names and must use names derivative of those of the male, or master, whom they serve.
The Handmaid's Tale explores themes of women in subjugation in a patriarchal society and the various means by which these women attempt to gain individuality and independence. The novel's title echoes the component parts of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, which is a series of connected stories ("The Merchant's Tale", "The Parson's Tale", etc.).
The Handmaid's Tale is structured into two parts, night and other various events. This novel can be interpreted as a double narrative, Offred's tale and the handmaids' tales. The night sections are solely about Offred, and the other sections (shopping, waiting room, household, etc.) are the stories that describe the possible life of every handmaid, though from the perspective of Offred. In many of these sections, Offred jumps between past and present as she retells the events leading up to the fall of women's rights and the current details of the life that she now lives.
The Handmaid's Tale won the 1985 Governor General's Award and the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987; it was also nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award, the 1986 Booker Prize, and the 1987 Prometheus Award. The book has been adapted into a 1990 film, a 2000 opera, a television series, and other media.
In 2019, a sequel novel, The Testaments, was published.
- 1 Plot summary
- 2 Characters
- 3 Setting
- 4 Genre classification
- 5 Critical reception
- 6 Academic reception
- 7 In other media
- 8 Sequel
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Works cited
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Beginning with a staged attack that kills the president and most of Congress, a radical political group calling itself the "Sons of Jacob", exploiting religious ideology, launches a revolution. The United States Constitution is suspended, newspapers are censored, and what was formerly the United States of America changes drastically into military dictatorship resembling a theonomy, known as the Republic of Gilead. The new regime moves quickly to consolidate its power, overtaking all pre-existing religious groups, including traditional Christian denominations; and reorganises society using a peculiar interpretation of some Old Testament ideas, and a new militarised, hierarchical model of social and religious fanaticism among its newly created social classes. Above all, the biggest change is the severe limitation of people's rights, especially those of women, making them unable to hold property, handle money, as well as forbidding them to read or write.
The story is told in first-person narration by a woman called Offred. In this era of declining birth rates due to increasing infertility brought about by environmental pollution and radiation, she is one of those few women with healthy reproductive systems. Hence she is forcibly assigned to produce children for the ruling class of men "Commanders", and is known as a "Handmaid" based on the biblical story of Rachel and her handmaid Bilhah. Apart from Handmaids, other women are also classed socially and follow a strict dress code, ranked highest to lowest: the Commanders' Wives in blue, the Handmaids in red with the exception of white veils around their faces, the Aunts (who train and indoctrinate the Handmaids) in brown, the Marthas (cooks and maids) in green, "Econowives" who handle everything in the domestic sphere in stripes, young and unmarried girls in white and widows in black.
Offred details her life starting with her third assignment as a Handmaid to one such Commander. Interspersed with her narratives of her present-day experiences are flashback discussions of her life from before and during the beginning of the revolution, when she finds she has lost all autonomy to her husband, their failed attempt to escape to Canada, her indoctrination into life as a Handmaid by the government-trained Aunts, and the successful escape of her friend Moira. At her new home, she is treated poorly by the Commander's wife Serena Joy, a Christian media personality who supported women's domesticity and subordinate role well before Gilead was established, but to her surprise, the Commander requests to see her outside of the "Ceremony", a sexual ritual obligatory for handmaids and intended to result in conception in the presence of his wife. The two begin an illegal relationship where they play Scrabble and Offred is allowed to ask favours of him, whether in terms of information or material items. Finally, he gives her lingerie and takes her to a government-run brothel called Jezebel's meant to add variety to men's sex lives which, as claimed by the Commander, is necessary. Offred unexpectedly encounters Moira there, with her will broken, and learns that while those who are found breaking the law are mostly sent to the Colonies to clean up toxic waste, women are also allowed to work at Jezebel's as punishment.
In the days between her visits to the Commander, Offred also learns from her shopping partner, a woman called Ofglen, of the Mayday resistance, an underground network working to overthrow the Republic of Gilead. Not knowing of Offred's criminal acts with her husband, Serena begins to suspect that the Commander is infertile, and arranges for Offred to begin a covert sexual relationship with Nick, the Commander's personal servant. After her initial sexual encounter, she and Nick begin to meet at their own initiative as well, with Offred discovering how she enjoys these intimate moments despite her memories of her husband, and shares potentially dangerous information about her past with him. However, shortly after, Ofglen disappears (reported as a suicide), and Serena finds evidence of the relationship between Offred and the Commander, making Offred contemplate suicide.
Offred tells Nick that she thinks she is pregnant. Shortly afterward, men arrive at the house wearing the uniform of the secret police, the Eyes of God, known informally as "the Eyes", to take her away. As she is led to a waiting van, Nick tells her to trust him and go with the men. It is unclear whether the men are actually Eyes, or members of the Mayday resistance. Offred is still unsure if Nick is a member of Mayday or an Eye posing as one, and is unsure if leaving will result in her escape or her capture. Ultimately, she enters the van with her future uncertain.
The novel concludes with a metafictional epilogue that explains how the events of the novel were recorded onto cassette tapes shortly after the beginning of what is called "the Gilead Period". It is implied that, following the collapse of the theonomic Republic of Gilead, a more equal society re-emerged with a restoration of normal rights for women and freedom of religion. However, the future setting still presents some issues regarding attitudes to women: Professor Peixoto makes a sexist joke about Professor Maryann Crescent Moon, causing laughter from the audience, and highlighting his ignorance toward the situation.
Offred is the protagonist and narrator. She was labelled a "wanton woman" when Gilead was established because she had married a man who was divorced. All divorces were nullified by the new government, meaning her husband was now considered still married to his first wife, making Offred an adulteress. In trying to escape Gilead, she was separated from her husband and daughter. She is part of the first generation of Gilead's women, those who remember pre-Gilead times. Proved fertile, she is considered an important commodity and has been placed as a "handmaid" in the home of "the Commander" and his wife Serena Joy, to bear a child for them (Serena Joy is believed to be infertile).
Offred is a slave name that describes her function: she is "of Fred" (i.e., she belongs to Fred–presumed to be the name of the Commander–and is considered a concubine). In the novel, Offred says that she is not a concubine, but a tool; a "two legged womb". The Handmaids' names say nothing about who the women really are; their only identity is as the Commander's property. "Offred" is also a pun on the word "offered", as in "offered as a sacrifice", and "of red" because the red dress assigned for the handmaids in Gilead.
In Atwood's original novel, Offred's real name is never revealed; however, Volker Schlöndorff's 1990 film adaptation gave Offred the real name Kate, while the television series gave her the real name June.
The women in training to be handmaids whisper names across their beds at night. The names are "Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June," and all are later accounted for except June. In addition, one of the Aunts tells the handmaids-in-training to stop "mooning and June-ing". From this and other references, some readers have inferred that her birth name could be "June". Miner suggests that "June" is a pseudonym. As "Mayday" is the name of the Gilead resistance, June could be an invention by the protagonist. The Nunavut conference covered in the epilogue takes place in June. When the Hulu TV series chose to state outright that Offred's real name is June, Atwood wrote that it was not her original intention to imply that Offred's real name is June "but it fits, so readers are welcome to it if they wish". The revelation of Offred's real name does not add to the series in any way, other than humanising her in the presence of the other Handmaids.
The Commander says that he is a sort of scientist and was previously involved in something similar to market research, pre-Gilead. Later, it is hypothesized, but not confirmed, that he might have been one of the architects of the Republic and its laws. Presumably, his first name is "Fred", though that, too, may be a pseudonym. He engages in forbidden intellectual pursuits with Offred, such as playing Scrabble, and introduces her to a secret club that serves as a brothel for high-ranking officers. Offred learns that the Commander carried on a similar relationship with his previous handmaid and that she killed herself when his wife found out.
In the epilogue an academic speculates that one of two figures, both instrumental in the establishment of Gilead, may have been the Commander, based on the name "Fred". It is his belief that the Commander was a man named Frederick R. Waterford who was killed in a purge shortly after Offred was taken away, charged with harbouring an enemy agent.
Serena Joy is a former televangelist and the Commander's wife in the fundamentalist theonomy. The state took away her power and public recognition, and tries to hide her past as a television figure. Offred identifies her master's wife by recalling seeing her on TV when she was a little girl early on Saturday mornings while waiting for the cartoons to air. Believed to be sterile (although the suggestion is made that the Commander is sterile, Gileadean laws attribute sterility only to women), she is forced to accept that he has use of a handmaid. She resents having to take part in the monthly fertility ritual. She strikes a deal with Offred to arrange for her to have sex with Nick in order to become pregnant. According to Professor Pieixoto in the epilogue, "Serena Joy" or "Pam" are pseudonyms; the character's real name is implied to be Thelma.
Ofglen is a neighbour of Offred's and a fellow Handmaid. She is partnered with Offred to do the daily shopping. Handmaids are never alone and are expected to police each other's behaviour. Ofglen is a member of the Mayday resistance. In contrast to Offred, she is daring. She knocks out a Mayday spy who is to be tortured and killed in order to save him the pain of a violent death. Offred is told that when Ofglen vanishes, it is because she has committed suicide before the government can take her into custody due to her membership in the resistance, possibly to avoid giving away any information.
A new handmaid, also called Ofglen, takes Ofglen's place, and is assigned as Offred's shopping partner. She threatens Offred against any thought of resistance. She breaks protocol by telling her what happened to the first Ofglen.
Nick is the Commander's chauffeur, who lives above the garage. By Serena Joy's arrangement, he and Offred start a sexual relationship to increase her chance of getting pregnant. If she were unable to bear the Commander a child, she would be declared sterile and shipped to the ecological wastelands of the Colonies. Offred begins to develop feelings for him. Nick is an ambiguous character, and Offred does not know if he is a party loyalist or part of the resistance, though he identifies himself as the latter. The epilogue suggests that he really was part of the resistance, and aided Offred in escaping the Commander's house.
Moira has been a close friend of Offred's since college. A lesbian, she has resisted the homophobia of Gilead society. Moira is taken to be a Handmaid soon after Offred. She escapes by stealing an Aunt's pass and clothes, but Offred later finds her working as a prostitute in a party-run brothel. She was caught and chose the brothel rather than to be sent to the Colonies.
Luke was Offred's husband before the formation of Gilead, having divorced his first wife to marry her. Under Gilead, all divorces were retroactively nullified, resulting in Offred being considered an adulteress and their daughter illegitimate. Offred was forced to become a Handmaid and her daughter was given to a loyalist family. Since their attempt to escape to Canada, Offred has heard nothing of Luke. She wavers between believing him dead or imprisoned.
Pieixoto is the "co-discoverer [with Professor Knotly Wade] of Offred's tapes". In his presentation at an academic conference, he talks about "the 'Problems of Authentication in Reference to The Handmaid's Tale'". Pieixoto is therefore the person who is retelling Offred's story, and so makes the narration even more unreliable than it was originally.
The novel is set in an indeterminate dystopian future, speculated to be around the year 2005, with a fundamentalist theonomy ruling the territory of what had been the United States but is now the Republic of Gilead. Individuals are segregated by categories and dressed according to their social functions. Complex dress codes play a key role in imposing social control within the new society and serve to distinguish people by sex, occupation, and caste.
In Gilead, the bodies of fertile women are politicized and controlled. The North American population is falling as more men and women become infertile (though in Gilead, legally, it is only women who can be the cause of infertility). Gilead's treatment of women is based upon a literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, meaning that women are the property of and subordinate to their husband, father, or head of household. They are not allowed to do anything that would grant them any power independent of this system. They are not allowed to vote, hold a job, read, possess money, or own anything, among many other restrictions.
A particular quote from The Handmaid's Tale sums this up: "The Republic of Gilead, said Aunt Lydia, knows no bounds. Gilead is within you" (HT 5.2). This describes that there is no way around the societal bounds of women in this new state of government. Handmaids, being not allowed to wed, are given two-year assignments with a commander, and lose their own name: they are called "Of [their Commander's first name]", such as the novel's protagonist, known only as Offred. When a handmaid is reassigned, her name changes with her. Their original identities before the revolution are suppressed, although while being re-educated as handmaids, they surreptitiously share their names with each other.
In this book, the government appears to be strong though "no one in Gilead seems to be a true believer in its revolution" (Beauchamp). The Commanders, portrayed via Commander Fred, do not agree with their own doctrines. The commander takes Offred at one point to a brothel in order to have sex with her in an informal setting apart from the Ceremony. The wives, portrayed via Serena Joy, former television evangelist, disobey the rules set forth by their commander husbands. Serena smokes black market cigarettes and expresses the forbidden idea that men may be infertile, and schemes to get Offred impregnated by her chauffeur.
Bruce Miller, the executive producer of The Handmaid's Tale television serial, declared with regard to Atwood's book, as well as his series, that Gilead is "a society that’s based kind of in a perverse misreading of Old Testament laws and codes". The author explains that Gilead tries to embody the "utopian idealism" present in 20th-century regimes, as well as earlier New England Puritanism. Both Atwood and Miller stated that the people running Gilead are "not genuinely Christian". The group running Gilead, according to Atwood, is "not really interested in religion; they're interested in power." In fact, in her prayers to God, Offred, reflecting on Gilead, prays “I don't believe for an instant that what's going on out there is what You meant.... I suppose I should say I forgive whoever did this, and whatever they’re doing now. I’ll try, but it isn't easy.” Margaret Atwood, writing on this, says that "Offred herself has a private version of the Lord's Prayer and refuses to believe that this regime has been mandated by a just and merciful God."
Christian churches that do not support the actions of the Sons of Jacob are systematically demolished, and the people living in Gilead are never seen attending church. Christian denominations, including Quakers, Baptists and Roman Catholics, are specifically named as enemies of the Sons of Jacob. Nuns who refuse conversion are considered "Unwomen" and banished to the Colonies, owing to their reluctance to marry and refusal (or inability) to bear children. Priests unwilling to convert are executed and hanged from the Wall. Atwood pits Quaker Christians against the regime by having them help the oppressed, something she feels they would do in reality: "The Quakers have gone underground, and are running an escape route to Canada, as—I suspect—they would."
Jews are named an exception and classified Sons of Jacob. Offred observes that Jews refusing to convert are allowed to emigrate from Gilead to Israel, and most choose to leave. However, in the Epilogue, Professor Pieixoto reveals that many of the emigrating Jews ended up being dumped into the sea while on the ships ostensibly tasked with transporting them to Israel, due to privatization of the "repatriation program" and capitalists' effort to maximize profits. Offred mentions that many Jews who chose to stay were caught secretly practicing Judaism and executed.
Caste and class
African Americans, the main non-white ethnic group in this society, are called the Children of Ham. A state TV broadcast mentions they have been relocated en masse to "National Homelands" in the Midwest, which are suggestive of the Apartheid-era homelands set up by South Africa. It is implied that Native Americans living in territories under the rule of Gilead are exterminated.
Sex and occupation
The sexes are strictly divided. Gilead's society values reproduction by white women most highly. Women are categorised "hierarchically according to class status and reproductive capacity" as well as "metonymically colour-coded according to their function and their labour" (Kauffman 232). The Commander expresses his personal opinion that women are considered inferior to men, as the men are in a position where they have power to control society.
Women are segregated by clothing, as are men. With rare exception, men wear military or paramilitary uniforms. All classes of men and women are defined by the colours they wear, drawing on colour symbolism and psychology. All lower-status individuals are regulated by this dress code. All "non-persons" are banished to the "Colonies". Sterile, unmarried women are considered to be non-persons. Both men and women sent there wear grey dresses.
The women, particularly the handmaids, are stripped of their individual identities as they lack formal names, taking on their assigned commander's first name in most cases. This hierarchical society has forced women to come to terms with their inability to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.
- The top social level permitted to women, achieved by marriage to higher-ranking officers. Wives always wear blue dresses and cloaks, suggesting traditional depictions of the Virgin Mary in historic Christian art. When a Commander dies, his Wife becomes a Widow and must dress in black.
- The natural or adopted children of the ruling class. They wear white until marriage, which is now arranged. The narrator's daughter may have been adopted by an infertile Wife and Commander and she is shown in a photograph wearing a long white dress.
- Fertile women whose social function is to bear children for infertile Wives. Handmaids dress in ankle-length red dresses, white caps, and heavy boots. In summer, they change into lighter-weight (but still ankle-length) dresses and slatted shoes. When in public, in winter, they wear ankle-length red cloaks, red gloves, and heavy white bonnets, which they call "wings" because the sides stick out, blocking their peripheral vision and shielding their faces from view. Handmaids are women of proven fertility who have broken the law. The law includes both gender crimes, such as lesbianism; and religious crimes, such as adultery (redefined to include sexual relationships with divorced partners since divorce is no longer legal). The Republic of Gilead justifies the use of the handmaids for procreation by referring to two biblical stories: Genesis 30:1–13 and Genesis 16:1–4. In the first story, Jacob's infertile wife Rachel offers up her handmaid Bilhah to be a surrogate mother on her behalf, and then her sister Leah does the same with her own handmaid Zilpah (even though Leah has already given Jacob many sons). In the other story, which appears earlier in Genesis but is cited less frequently, Abraham has sex with his wife's handmaid, Hagar. Handmaids are assigned to Commanders and live in their houses. When unassigned, they live at training centers. Handmaids who successfully bear children continue to live at their commander's house until their children are weaned, at which point they are sent to a new assignment. Those who do produce children, however, will never be declared "Unwomen" or sent to the Colonies, even if they never have another baby.
- Trainers of the Handmaids. They dress in brown. Aunts promote the role of Handmaid as an honorable way for a sinful woman to redeem herself. They also police the Handmaids, beating some and ordering the maiming of others. The aunts have an unusual amount of autonomy, compared to other women of Gilead. They are the only class of women permitted to read although this is only to fulfil the administrative aspect of their role. ("The Aunts are allowed to read and write." Vintage Books, p. 139. However, on p. 100 of the Vintage Books edition: "They played it (the Beatitudes) from a disc; the voice was a man's." In the Anchor Books edition: "They played it (the Beatitudes) from a tape, so not even an Aunt would be guilty of the sin of reading. The voice was a man's. (p.89.)")
- They are older infertile women who have domestic skills and are compliant, making them suitable as servants. They dress in green smocks. The title of "Martha" is based on the story of Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary (Gospel of Luke 10:38–42), where Jesus visits Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha; Mary listens to Jesus while Martha works at "all the preparations that had to be made".
- Women married to men of lower-rank, not members of the elite. They are expected to perform all the female functions: domestic duties, companionship, and child-bearing. Their dress is multicoloured red, blue, and green to reflect these multiple roles, and is made of notably cheaper material.
The division of labour among the women generates some resentment. Marthas, Wives and Econowives perceive Handmaids as promiscuous and are taught to scorn them. Offred mourns that the women of the various groups have lost their ability to empathize with each other. They are divided in their oppression.
- Sterile women, the unmarried, some widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and politically dissident women: all women who are incapable of social integration within the Republic's strict gender divisions. Gilead exiles Unwomen to "the Colonies", areas both of agricultural production and deadly pollution. Joining them are handmaids who fail to bear a child after three two-year assignments.
- Women forced to become prostitutes and entertainers. They are available only to the Commanders and to their guests. Offred portrays Jezebels as attractive and educated; they may be unsuitable as handmaids due to temperament. They have been sterilized, a surgery that is forbidden to other women. They operate in unofficial but state-sanctioned brothels, unknown to most women. Jezebels, whose title also comes from the Bible (note Queen Jezebel in the Books of Kings), dress in the remnants of sexualized costumes from "the time before", such as cheerleaders' costumes, school uniforms, and Playboy Bunny costumes. Jezebels can wear make-up, drink alcohol and socialize with men, but are tightly controlled by the Aunts. When they pass their sexual prime and/or their looks fade, they are discarded without any precision as to whether they are killed or sent to the Colonies in the novel.
Men are classified into four main categories:
- Commanders of the Faithful
- The ruling class. Because of their status, they are entitled to establish a patriarchal household with a Wife, a Handmaid if necessary, Marthas (female servants) and Guardians. They have a duty to procreate, but many may be infertile, as a possible result of exposure to a biological agent in pre-Gilead times. They wear black to signify superiority.
- The secret police attempting to discover those violating the rules of Gilead.
- Soldiers who fight in the wars in order to expand and protect the country's borders. Angels may be permitted to marry.
- Guardians (of the Faith)
- Soldiers "used for routine policing and other menial functions". They are unsuitable for other work in the republic being "stupid or older or disabled or very young, apart from the ones that are Eyes incognito" (chapter 4). Guardians may perform the roles normally attributed to Marthas where conflict with the laws of Gilead might occur, such as the cleaning of a Commander's study where it is possible to access reading materials. Young Guardians may be promoted to Angels when they come of age. They wear green uniforms.
Men who engage in homosexuality or related acts are declared "gender traitors"; they are either hanged or sent to the Colonies to die a slow death.
In this society, birth defects have become increasingly common.
There are two main categories of human children:
- Unbabies, also known as "shredders"
- Babies born physically deformed or with some other birth defect. They do not last but Offred does not know what happens to them. Pregnant Handmaids fear giving birth to a damaged child, or unbaby. Gilead forbids abortion and all tests to determine prenatal health of a fetus.
- Babies that are born alive with no defects.
"The Ceremony" is a non-marital sexual act sanctioned for reproduction. The ritual requires the Handmaid to lie on her back between the legs of the Wife during the sex act as if they were one person. The Wife has to invite the Handmaid to share her power this way; many Wives consider this both humiliating and offensive. Offred describes the ceremony:
My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he's doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for.
In the novel's fictional fundamentalist society, sterile is an outlawed word. In this society, there is no such thing as a sterile man. In this culture, women are either fruitful or barren, the latter of which are declared to be "unwomen" and are sent to the colonies with the rest of the "unwomen" to do life-threatening work until their death, which is, on average, three years.
Atwood emphasises how changes in context affect behaviours and attitudes by repeating the phrase "Context is all" throughout the novel, establishing this precept as a motif. Playing the game of Scrabble with her Commander illustrates the key significance of changes in "context"; once "the game of old men and women", the game became forbidden for women to play and therefore "desirable". Through living in a morally rigid society, Offred has come to perceive the world differently from earlier. Offred expresses amazement at how "It has taken so little time to change our minds about things". Wearing revealing clothes and makeup had been part of her former life, but when she sees Japanese tourists dressed that way, she now feels the women are inappropriately dressed.
Offred can read but not translate the phrase "nolite te bastardes carborundorum" carved into the closet wall of her small bedroom; this mock-Latin aphorism signifies "Don't let the bastards grind you down".
I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can't yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth. But the terms are fluid.
Hugo-winning science fiction critic David Langford observed in a column: "The Handmaid's Tale won the very first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987. She's been trying to live this down ever since." He says:
Atwood prefers to say that she writes speculative fiction—a term coined by SF author Robert A. Heinlein. As she told the Guardian, "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen." She used a subtly different phrasing for New Scientist, "Oryx and Crake is not science fiction. It is fact within fiction. Science fiction is when you have rockets and chemicals." So it was very cruel of New Scientist to describe this interview in the contents list as: "Margaret Atwood explains why science is crucial to her science fiction." ... Play it again, Ms Atwood—this time for the Book-of-the-Month Club: "Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper. It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians." On BBC1 Breakfast News the distinguished author explained that science fiction, as opposed to what she writes, is characterized by "talking squids in outer space".
In distinguishing between these genre labels science fiction and speculative fiction, Atwood acknowledges that others may use the terms interchangeably. But she notes her interest in this type of work to explore themes in ways that "realistic fiction" cannot do.
Fitting with her claims that The Handmaid's Tale is a work of speculative fiction, not science fiction, Atwood's novel offers a satirical view of various social, political, and religious trends of the 1980s United States. Her motivation to write it was that in the 1980s, the religious right was discussing what they would do with/to women if they took power, including the Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, and the Christian Coalition and the Ronald Reagan administration. Further, Atwood questions what would happen if these trends, and especially "casually held attitudes about women" were taken to their logical end. Atwood continues to argue that all of the scenarios offered in The Handmaid's Tale have actually occurred in real life—in an interview she gave regarding Oryx and Crake, Atwood maintains that "As with The Handmaid's Tale, I didn't put in anything that we haven't already done, we're not already doing, we're seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress... So all of those things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil." Atwood was also known to carry around newspaper clippings to her various interviews to support her fiction's basis in reality. Atwood has explained that The Handmaid's Tale is a response to those who claim the oppressive, totalitarian, and religious governments that have taken hold in other countries throughout the years "can't happen here"—but in this work, she has tried to show how such a takeover might play out.
Atwood's inspiration for the Republic of Gilead came from her time studying early American Puritans while at Harvard, which she attended on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Atwood argues that the modern view of the Puritans—that they came to America to flee religious persecution in England and set up a religiously tolerant society—is misleading, and that instead, these Puritan leaders wanted to establish a monolithic theocracy where religious dissent would not be tolerated. Atwood also had a personal connection to the Puritans, and she dedicates the novel to her own ancestor Mary Webster, who was accused of witchcraft in Puritan New England but survived her hanging. Due to the totalitarian nature of Gileadan society, Atwood, in creating the setting, drew from the "utopian idealism" present in 20th century régimes, such as Cambodia and Romania, as well as earlier New England Puritanism. Atwood has argued that a coup, such as the one depicted in The Handmaid's Tale, would misuse religion in order to achieve its own ends:
... if you wanted to seize power in the US, abolish liberal democracy and set up a dictatorship, how would you go about it? What would be your cover story? It would not resemble any form of communism or socialism: those would be too unpopular... Nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren't there already. Thus China replaced a state bureaucracy with a similar state bureaucracy under a different name, the USSR replaced the dreaded imperial secret police with an even more dreaded secret police, and so forth. The deep foundation of the US – so went my thinking – was not the comparatively recent 18th-century Enlightenment structures of the republic, with their talk of equality and their separation of church and state, but the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th-century Puritan New England, with its marked bias against women, which would need only the opportunity of a period of social chaos to reassert itself. Like any theocracy, this one would select a few passages from the Bible to justify its actions, and it would lean heavily towards the Old Testament, not towards the New.
Atwood, with respect to those leading Gilead, further stated:
I don't consider these people to be Christians because they do not have at the core of their behavior and ideologies what I, in my feeble Canadian way, would consider to be the core of Christianity … and that would be not only love your neighbors but love your enemies. That would also be 'I was sick and you visited me not' and such and such …And that would include also concern for the environment, because you can't love your neighbor or even your enemy, unless you love your neighbor's oxygen, food, and water. You can't love your neighbor or your enemy if you're presuming policies that are going to cause those people to die. … Of course faith can be a force for good and often has been. So faith is a force for good particularly when people are feeling beleaguered and in need of hope. So you can have bad iterations and you can also have the iteration in which people have got too much power and then start abusing it. But that is human behavior, so you can't lay it down to religion. You can find the same in any power situation, such as politics or ideologies that purport to be atheist. Need I mention the former Soviet Union? So it is not a question of religion making people behave badly. It is a question of human beings getting power and then wanting more of it.
In the same vein, Atwood also declared that "In the real world today, some religious groups are leading movements for the protection of vulnerable groups, including women." Atwood also draws connections between the ways in which Gilead's leaders maintain their power and other examples of actual totalitarian governments. In her interviews, Atwood offers up Afghanistan as an example of a religious theocracy forcing women out of the public sphere and into their homes, as in Gilead. The "state-sanctioned murder of dissidents" was inspired by the Philippines, and the last General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party Nicolae Ceaușescu's obsession with increasing the birth rate led to the strict policing of pregnant women and the outlawing of birth control and abortion. However, Atwood clearly explains that many of these deplorable acts were not just present in other cultures and countries, "but within Western society, and within the 'Christian' tradition itself".
The Republic of Gilead struggles with infertility, making Offred's services as a Handmaid vital to producing children and thus reproducing the society. Handmaids themselves are "untouchable", but their ability to signify status is equated to that of slaves or servants throughout history. Atwood connects their concerns with infertility to real-life problems our world faces, such as radiation, chemical pollution, and venereal disease (HIV/AIDS is specifically mentioned in the "Historical Notes" section at the end of the novel, which was a relatively new disease at the time of Atwood's writing whose long-term impact was still unknown). Atwood's strong stance on environmental issues and their negative consequences for our society has presented itself in other works such as her MaddAddam trilogy, and refers back to her growing up with biologists and her own scientific curiosity.
The Handmaid's Tale was well received by critics, helping to cement Atwood's status as a prominent writer of the 20th century. Not only was the book deemed well-written and compelling, but Atwood's work was notable for sparking intense debates both in and out of academia. Atwood maintains that the Republic of Gilead is only an extrapolation of trends already seen in the United States at the time of her writing, a view supported by other scholars studying The Handmaid's Tale. Indeed, many have placed The Handmaid's Tale in the same category of dystopian fiction as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, with the added feature of confronting patriarchy, a categorization that Atwood has accepted and reiterated in many articles and interviews.
Even today, many reviewers hold that Atwood's novel remains as foreboding and powerful as ever, largely because of its basis in historical fact. Yet when her book was first published in 1985, not all reviewers were convinced of the "cautionary tale" Atwood presented. For example, Mary McCarthy's New York Times review argued that The Handmaid's Tale lacked the "surprised recognition" necessary for readers to see "our present selves in a distorting mirror, of what we may be turning into if current trends are allowed to continue".
In the aftermath of the television series' debut in 2017, there has been much debate on parallels drawn between the series (and by extension, this book) and American society following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and that of Mike Pence as Vice President of the United States.
Much of the discussion about The Handmaid's Tale has centered on its categorization as feminist literature. Atwood does not see the Republic of Gilead as a purely feminist dystopia, as not all men have greater rights than women. Instead, this society presents a typical dictatorship: "shaped like a pyramid, with the powerful of both sexes at the apex, the men generally outranking the women at the same level; then descending levels of power and status with men and women in each, all the way down to the bottom, where the unmarried men must serve in the ranks before being awarded an Econowife". Additionally, Atwood has argued that while some of the observations that informed the content of The Handmaid's Tale may be feminist, her novel is not meant to say "one thing to one person" or serve as a political message—instead, The Handmaid's Tale is "a study of power, and how it operates and how it deforms or shapes the people who are living within that kind of regime".
Some scholars have offered such a feminist interpretation, however, connecting Atwood's use of religious fundamentalism in the pages of The Handmaid's Tale to a condemnation of their presence in current American society. Yet others have argued that The Handmaid's Tale critiques typical notions of feminism, as Atwood's novel appears to subvert the traditional "women helping women" ideals of the movement and turn toward the possibility of "the matriarchal network ... and a new form of misogyny: women's hatred of women".
Ana Cottle characterized The Handmaid's Tale as "white feminism", noting that Atwood does away with black people in a few lines by relocating the "Children of Ham" while borrowing heavily from the African-American experience and applying it to white women.
- 1985 – Governor General's Award for English-language fiction (winner)
- 1986 – Booker Prize (nominated)
- 1986 – Nebula Award (nominated)
- 1987 – Arthur C. Clarke Award (winner)[a]
- 1987 – Prometheus Award (nominated)[b]
- Commonwealth Literature Prize (winner)
- Welsh Arts Council International Writer's Prize (winner)
Atwood's novels, and especially her works of speculative fiction, The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake, are frequently offered as examples for the final, open-ended question on the North American Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition exam each year. As such, her books are often assigned in high-school classrooms to students taking this Advanced Placement course, despite the mature themes the work presents. Atwood herself has expressed surprise that her books are being assigned to high-school audiences, largely due to her own censored education in the 1950s, but she has assured readers that this increased attention from high-school students has not altered the material she has chosen to write about since.
Many people have expressed discontent at The Handmaid's Tale's presence in the classroom, as it has been frequently challenged or banned over the last 30 years. Some of these challenges have come from parents concerned about the explicit sexuality and other adult themes represented in the book. Others have argued that The Handmaid's Tale depicts a negative view of religion, a view supported by several academics who propose that Atwood's work satirizes contemporary religious fundamentalists in the United States, offering a feminist critique of the trends this movement to the Right represents.
The American Library Association (ALA) lists The Handmaid's Tale as number 37 on the "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000". Atwood participated in discussing The Handmaid's Tale as the subject of an ALA discussion series titled "One Book, One Conference".
Some complaints have included:
- 1990: Challenged at Rancho Cotate High School, Rohnert Park, California, as too explicit for students.
- 1992: Challenged in schools in Waterloo, Iowa, reportedly because of profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women, and the disabled.
- 1993: Removed because of profanity and sex from the Chicopee, Massachusetts, high-school English class reading list.
- 1998: Challenged for use in Richland, Washington, high-school English classes, along with six other titles determined to be "poor quality literature and [that] stress suicide, illicit sex, violence, and hopelessness".
- 1999: Challenged because of graphic sex, but retained on the advanced placement English list, at George D. Chamberlain High School in Tampa, Florida.
- 2000: Downgraded from "required" to "optional" on the summer reading list for eleventh graders in the Upper Moreland School District near Philadelphia due to "age-inappropriate" subject matter.
- 2001: Challenged, but retained, in the Dripping Springs, Texas, senior Advanced Placement English course as an optional reading assignment. Some parents were offended by the book's descriptions of sexual encounters.
- 2006: Initially banned by Superintendent Ed Lyman from an advanced placement English curriculum in the Judson independent school district in Texas after a parent complained. Lyman had overruled the recommendation of a committee of teachers, students, and parents; the committee appealed the decision to the school board, which overturned his ban.
- 2012: Challenged as required reading for a Page High School International Baccalaureate class and as optional reading for Advanced Placement reading courses at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina because the book is “sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt". Some parents thought the book is “detrimental to Christian values".
"The Handmaid's Tale wasn't likely written for 17-year-olds, but neither are a lot of things we teach in high school, like Shakespeare... And they are all the better for reading it. They are on the edge of adulthood already, and there's no point in coddling them," he said, adding, "they aren't coddled in terms of mass media today anyway"... He said the book has been accused of being anti-Christian and, more recently, anti-Islamic because the women are veiled and polygamy is allowed... But that "misses the point", said Brown. "It's really anti-fundamentalism."
In her earlier account (14 January 2009), Rushowy reported that a Toronto District School Board committee was "reviewing the novel". While noting that "The Handmaid's Tale is listed as one of the 100 'most frequently challenged books' from 1990 to 1999 on the American Library Association's website", Rushowy reports that "The Canadian Library Association says there is 'no known instance of a challenge to this novel in Canada' but says the book was called anti-Christian and pornographic by parents after being placed on a reading list for secondary students in Texas in the 1990s."
In November 2012 two parents in Guilford County, North Carolina protested against inclusion of the book on a required reading list at a local high school. The parents presented the school board with a petition signed by 2,300 people, prompting a review of the book by the school's media advisory committee. According to local news reports, one of the parents said "she felt Christian students are bullied in society, in that they're made to feel uncomfortable about their beliefs by non-believers. She said including books like The Handmaid's Tale contributes to that discomfort, because of its negative view on religion and its anti-biblical attitudes toward sex."
Other use in academia
In institutions of higher education, professors have found The Handmaid's Tale to be useful, largely because of its historical and religious basis and Atwood's captivating delivery. The novel's teaching points include: introducing politics and the social sciences to students in a more concrete way; demonstrating the importance of reading to our freedom, both intellectual and political; and acknowledging the "most insidious and violent manifestations of power in Western history" in a compelling manner. The chapter entitled "Historical Notes" at the end of the novel also represents a warning to academics who run the risk of misreading and misunderstanding historical texts, pointing to the satirized Professor Pieixoto as an example of a male scholar who has taken over and overpowered Offred's narrative with his own interpretation.
In other media
- An audiobook of the unabridged text, read by Claire Danes (ISBN 9781491519110), won the 2013 Audie Award for fiction.
- In 2014, Canadian band Lakes of Canada released their album Transgressions, which is intended to be a concept album inspired by The Handmaid's Tale.
- On his album Shady Lights from 2017, Snax references the novel and film adaption, specifically the character of Serena Joy, in the song, “Make Me Disappear.” The first verse reads, ‘You can call me Serena Joy. Drink in hand, in front of the TV, I’m teary eyed, adjusting my CC.’
- The 1990 film The Handmaid's Tale was based on a screenplay by Harold Pinter and directed by Volker Schlöndorff. It stars Natasha Richardson as Offred, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, and Robert Duvall as The Commander (Fred).
- A dramatic adaptation of the novel for radio was produced for BBC Radio 4 by John Dryden in 2000.
- A Canadian dramatic adaptation for radio was written by playwright Michael O'Brien and produced on CBC Radio in 2002.
- A stage adaptation written and directed by Bruce Shapiro played at Tufts University in 1989.
- An operatic adaptation, The Handmaid's Tale, by Poul Ruders, premiered in Copenhagen on 6 March 2000, and was performed by the English National Opera, in London, in 2003. It was the opening production of the 2004–2005 season of the Canadian Opera Company. Boston Lyric Opera mounted a production in May 2019.
- A stage adaptation of the novel, by Brendon Burns, for the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke, England, toured the UK in 2002.
- A ballet adaptation choreographed by Lila York and produced by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet premiered on 16 October 2013. Amanda Green appeared as Offred and Alexander Gamayunov as The Commander.
- A one-woman stage show, adapted from the novel, by Joseph Stollenwerk premiered in the U.S. in January 2015.
- Hulu has produced a television series based on the novel, starring Elisabeth Moss as Offred. The first three episodes were released on April 26, 2017, with subsequent episodes following on a weekly basis. Margaret Atwood served as consulting producer. The series won eight Primetime Emmy Awards in 2017, including Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Moss). The series was renewed for a second season, which premiered on April 25, 2018, and in May 2018, Hulu announced renewal for a third season.
In November 2018, Atwood announced that a sequel, titled The Testaments, would be published in September 2019. The novel is set fifteen years after Offred's final scene, and updates the story of Aunt Lydia, as well as telling the story of Offred's two daughters.
- The Handmaid's Tale is the inaugural winner of this award for the best science fiction novel published in the United Kingdom during the previous year.
- The Prometheus Award is an award for libertarian science fiction novels given out annually by the Libertarian Futurist Society, which also publishes a quarterly journal, Prometheus.
Cosstick, Ruth (January 1986). "Book review: The Handmaids Tale". Canadian Review of Materials. Vol. 14 no. 1. CM Archive. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
Tad Aronowicz's jaggedly surrealistic cover design is most appropriate.
- "The Handmaid's Tale Study Guide: About Speculative Fiction". Gradesaver. 22 May 2009.
- Atwood, Margaret (17 June 2005). "Aliens have taken the place of angels". The Guardian. UK.
If you're writing about the future and you aren't doing forecast journalism, you'll probably be writing something people will call either science fiction or speculative fiction. I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can't yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth. But the terms are fluid. Some use speculative fiction as an umbrella covering science fiction and all its hyphenated forms–science fiction fantasy, and so forth–and others choose the reverse... I have written two works of science fiction or, if you prefer, speculative fiction: The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake. Here are some of the things these kinds of narratives can do that socially realistic novels cannot do.
- Langford 2003.
- Douthat, Ross (24 May 2017). "'The Handmaid's Tale and Ours'". The New York Times.
Now, in the era of the Trump administration, liberal TV watchers find a perverse sort of comfort in the horrific alternate reality of the Republic of Gilead, where a cabal of theonomist Christians have established a totalitarian state that forbids women to read, sets a secret police to watch their every move and deploys them as slave-concubines to childless elites.
- Atwood, Margaret (10 March 2017). "Margaret Atwood on What 'The Handmaid's Tale' Means in the Age of Trump". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
- "The Handmaid's Tale Study Guide: Character List". Gradesaver. 22 May 2009.
- "The Forgotten Handmaid's Tale". The Atlantic, March 24, 2015.
- Atwood 1986, p. 220.
- Getz, Dana (26 April 2017). "Offred's Real Name In 'The Handmaid's Tale' Is The Only Piece Of Power She Still Holds". Bustle.
In Margaret Atwood's original novel, Offred's real name is never revealed. Many eagle-eyed readers deduced that it was June based on contextual clues: Of the names the Handmaids trade in hushed tones as they lie awake at night, "June" is the only one that's never heard again once Offred is narrating.
- Madonne 1991[page needed]
- Oates, Joyce Carol (2 November 2006). "Margaret Atwood's Tale". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
- Atwood 1998, An Interview: 'Q: We can figure out that the main character lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts'
- Mccarthy, Mary (9 February 1986). "No Headline – The New York Times". The New York Times. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
- O'Hare, Kate (16 April 2017). "'The Handmaid's Tale' on Hulu: What Should Catholics Think?". Faith & Family Media Blog. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Atwood, Margaret (20 January 2012). "Haunted by the Handmaid's Tale". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
- Lucie-Smith, Alexander (29 May 2017). "Should Catholics watch The Handmaid's Tale?". The Catholic Herald. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Williams, Layton E. (25 April 2017). "Margaret Atwood on Christianity, 'The Handmaid's Tale,' and What Faithful Activism Looks Like Today". Sojourners. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Blondiau, Eloise (28 April 2017). "Reflecting on the frightening lessons of 'The Handmaid's Tale'". America. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
- Atwood, Margaret (10 March 2017). "Margaret Atwood on What 'The Handmaid's Tale' Means in the Age of Trump". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
- Atwood 1998, p. 94.
- Atwood 1998, p. 161.
- Atwood 1998, pp. 144, 192.
- Atwood 1998, pp. 178–79.
- Atwood 1998, pp. 36.
- Atwood 1998, pp. 235.
- Armstrong, Jennifer. "Why the Handmaid's Tale is so relevant today". BBC Culture.
- "An Interview with Margaret Atwood on her novel, The Handmaid's Tale" (PDF). Nashville Public Library. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 April 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
- Gruss, Susanne (2004). ""People confuse interpersonal relations with legal structures." An Interview with Margaret Atwood". Gender Forum. Archived from the original on 27 April 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- Neuman, Shirley (2006). "'Just a Backlash': Margaret Atwood, Feminism, and The Handmaid's Tale". University of Toronto Quarterly. 75 (3): 857–868. doi:10.1353/utq.2006.0260. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
- Rothstein, Mervyn (17 February 1986). "No Balm in Gilead for Margaret Atwood". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
- Evans, Mark (1994). Nicholson, Colin (ed.). Versions of History: The Handmaid's Tale and its Dedicatees. Margaret Atwood: Writing and Subjectivity. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 177–188.
- "Emma Watson interviews Margaret Atwood about 'The Handmaid's Tale'". Entertainment Weekly. 14 July 2017. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
Recently, someone said, “Religion doesn’t radicalize people, people radicalize religion.” So you can use any religion as an excuse for being repressive, and you can use any religion as an excuse for resisting repression; it works both ways, as it does in the book. So that was one set of inspirations.
- Curwood, Steve (13 June 2014). "Margaret Atwood on Fiction, The Future, and Environmental Crisis". Living on Earth. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
- Greene, Gayle (July 1986). "Choice of Evils". The Women's Review of Books. JSTOR 4019952.
- Armbruster, Jane (Fall 1990). "Memory and Politics – A Reflection on "The Handmaid's Tale"". Social Justice. JSTOR 29766564.
- Atwood, Margaret (May 2004). "The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake "In Context"". PMLA.
- Robertson, Adi (20 December 2014). "Does The Handmaid's Tale hold up?". The Verge. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- Newman, Charlotte (25 September 2010). "The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
- McCarthy, Mary (9 February 1986). "Book Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
- For articles that attempt to draw parallels between The Handmaid's Tale and Trump's election as President of the United States, see:
- Nally, Claire (31 May 2017). "How The Handmaid's Tale is being transformed from fantasy into fact". The Independent. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Brooks, Katherine (24 May 2017). "How 'The Handmaid's Tale' Villains Were Inspired By Trump". Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Robertson, Adi (9 November 2016). "In Trump's America, The Handmaid's Tale matters more than ever". The Verge. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
- Douthat, Ross (24 May 2017). "The Handmaid's Tale,' and Ours". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 July 2017.
- For articles that disagree with attempts to draw parallels between The Handmaid's Tale and Trump's election as President of the United States, see:
- Crispin, Jessa (2 May 2017). "The Handmaid's Tale is just like Trump's America? Not so fast". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Smith, Kyle (28 April 2017). "Sorry: 'Handmaid's Tale' tells us nothing about Trump's America". New York Post. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Cohen, Ariel (2 May 2017). "Stop comparing 'The Handmaid's Tale' to Trump's America". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
- Hines, Molly (2006). "Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale": Fundamentalist religiosity and the oppression of women". Angelo State University. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- Mercer, Naomi (2013). ""Subversive Feminist Thrusts": Feminist Dystopian Writing and Religious Fundamentalism in Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale", Louise Marley's "The Terrorists of Irustan", Marge Piercy's "He, She and It", and Sheri S. Tepper's "Raising the Stones"". University of Wisconsin – Madison. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
- Callaway, Alanna (2008). "Women disunited: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale as a critique of feminism". San Jose State University. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- "The Handmaid's Tale: A White Feminist Dystopia". theestablishment.co. 17 May 2017.
- Bastién, Angelica Jade (June 2017). "The Handmaid's Tale's Greatest Failing Is How It Handles Race". Vulture.
- "AP English Literature and Composition Exam". College Board. 10 July 2006. Retrieved 26 March 2016.
- Perry, Douglas (30 December 2014). "Margaret Atwood and the 'Four Unwise Republicans': 12 surprises from the legendary writer's Reddit AMA". The Oregonian. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
- "The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000". American Library Association. 27 March 2013.
- "Annual Report 2002–2003: One Book, One Conference". American Library Association. June 2003. Archived from the original on 1 December 2009. Retrieved 21 May 2009. Concerns inaugural program featuring Margaret Atwood held in Toronto, 19–25 June 2003.
- Doyle, Robert P. (2017). Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read. American Library Association. ISBN 978-0-8389-8962-3.
- Rushowy 2009: "Committee reviews 'fictional drivel' alleged to violate board policy on respect, profanity". [In his letter to his son's school principal (quoted by Rushowy), a parent, Robert Edwards, observes that The Handmaid's Tale] "is rife with brutality towards and mistreatment of women (and men at times), sexual scenes, and bleak depression... I can't really understand what it is my son is supposed to be learning from this fictional drivel... I have a major problem with a curriculum book that cannot be fully read out loud in class, in front of an assembly, directly to a teacher, a parent, or, for that matter, contains attitudes and words that cannot be used by students in class discussion or hallway conversation. Let alone a description of situations that must be embarrassing and uncomfortable to any young woman in that class – and probably the young men, too." [Rushowy reports:] "According to Toronto District School board policy, any complaint that can't be solved at the school level goes to a review committee... Such a committee is now reviewing The Handmaid's Tale... It met yesterday [15 January 2009]... and will eventually make a recommendation to the director of education. If Edwards still isn't satisfied, he can appeal to trustees."
- Rushowy 2009b: "Committee to consider objection to book; concern may centre on sexuality, religion."
- Carr, Mitch (2 November 2012). "Guilford County moms want reading list criteria changed". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
- Burack, Cynthia (Winter 1988–89). "Bringing Women's Studies to Political Science: The Handmaid in the Classroom". NWSA Journal. 1 (2): 274–283. JSTOR 4315901.
- Laz, Cheryl (January 1996). "Science Fiction and Introductory Sociology: The 'Handmaid' in the Classroom". Teaching Sociology. 24 (1): 54–63. JSTOR 1318898.
- Bergmann, Harriet (December 1989). ""Teaching Them to Read": A Fishing Expedition in the Handmaid's Tale". College English. JSTOR 378090.
- Larson, Janet (Spring 1989). "Margaret Atwood and the Future of Prophecy". Religion and Literature.
- Stein, Karen (1996). "Margaret Atwood's Modest Proposal: The Handmaid's Tale". University of Rhode Island. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
- Gummere, Joe. "2013 Audie Awards® Finalists by category". joeaudio.com. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
- "Artists: Lakes of Canada". CBC Music. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
- "Tufts University: Department of Drama and Dance: Performances & Events". dramadance.tufts.edu. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
- Clements, Andrew (5 April 2003). "Classical music & opera". The Guardian. UK.
- Littler, William (15 December 2004), Opera Canada.
- Allen, David (10 May 2019). "Review: 'The Handmaid's Tale' Is a Brutal Triumph as Opera". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
- "The Handmaid's tale". UKTW.
- "The Handmaid's Tale debuts as ballet in Winnipeg". CA: CBC News. 15 October 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
- Lyman, David (24 January 2015). "'Handmaid's Tale' offers extreme view of future". Cincinnati.com.
- Hardawar, Devindra (29 April 2016). "Hulu is adapting Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale'". Engadget. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
- Otterson, Joe (17 September 2017). "'Hulu Carried to Emmys Glory by Eight Wins for 'Handmaid's Tale'". Variety. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- Holloway, Daniel (2 May 2018). "'The Handmaid's Tale' Renewed for Season 3 at Hulu". Variety. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
- "Margaret Atwood announces sequel to The Handmaid's Tale". CBC News, November 28, 2018.
- "Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale Sequel: Offred’s Daughters Tell Their Stories". Vanity Fair, September 4, 2019.
- (17 June 2005), "Aliens Have Taken the Place of Angels", The Guardian
- (14 Jan 2009), "Complaint Spurs School Board to Review Novel by Atwood", The Toronto Star.
- Alexander, Lynn (22 May 2009), "The Handmaid's Tale Working Bibliography", Department of English, University of Tennessee at Martin. Hyperlinked to online resources for Alexander, Dr Lynn (Spring 1999), Women Writers: Magic, Mysticism, and Mayhem (course). Includes entry for book chap. by Kauffman.
- An Interview with Margaret Atwood on her novel, The Handmaid's Tale (n.d.). In Nashville Public Library.
- Armrbuster, J. (1990). "Memory and Politics — A Reflection on "The Handmaid's Tale". Social Justice 17(3), 146–52.
- Atwood, Margaret (1985), The Handmaid's Tale, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 0-7710-0813-9 (1986), The Handmaid's Tale, New York: Anchor Books.(1998), The Handmaid's Tale, New York: Anchor Books (div. of Random House), ISBN 978-0-385-49081-8. Parenthetical page references are to the 1998 ed. Digitized 2 June 2008 by Google Books (311 pp.) (2005), La Servante écarlate [The Handmaid's Tale] (in French), Rué, Sylviane transl, Paris: J'ai Lu, ISBN 978-2-290-34710-2.
- Atwood, M. (2004). The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake "In Context". PMLA, 119(3), 513–517.
- Atwood, M. (20 January 2012). "Haunted by the Handmaid's Tale". The Guardian.
- Bergmann, H. F. (1989). "Teaching Them to Read: A Fishing Expedition in the Handmaid's Tale". College English, 51(8), 847–854.
- Burack, C. (1988–89). "Bringing Women's Studies to Political Science: The Handmaid in the Classroom". NWSA Journal 1(2), 274–83.
- Callaway, A. A. (2008). "Women disunited: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale as a critique of feminism". San Jose State University.
- Curwood, Steve. (13 June 2014). "Margaret Atwood on Fiction, The Future, and Environmental Crisis". Living on Earth. n.p.
- Evans, M. (1994). "Versions of History: The Handmaid's Tale and its Dedicatees". In C. Nicholson (Ed.), Margaret Atwood: Writing and Subjectivity (pp. 177–188). London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
- Greene, Gayle. (1986). "Choice of Evils". The Women's Review of Books 3(10), 14–15.
- Gruss, S. (2004). "People confuse personal relations with legal structures". An Interview with Margaret Atwood. In Gender Forum. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- Hines, M. E. (2006). Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale: Fundamentalist Religiosity and the Oppression of Women. N.p.: Angelo State University.
- Kauffman, Linda (1989), "6. Special Delivery: Twenty-First Century Epistolarity in The Handmaid's Tale", in Goldsmith, Elizabeth, Writing the Female Voice: Essays on Epistolary Literature, Boston: Northeastern University Press, pp. 221–44. Cited in Alexander.
- Langford, David (Aug 2003), "Bits and Pieces", SFX (UK: Ansible) (107).
- Larson, J. L. (1989). "Margaret Atwood and the Future of Prophecy". Religion & Literature 21(1), 27–61.
- Laz, C. (January 1996). "Science Fiction and Introductory Sociology: The 'Handmaid' in the Classroom". Teaching Sociology,24(1), 54–63.
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