The Handmaid's Tale Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Handmaid's Tale

The story is told through the eyes of a "handmaid" whose name is unknown to us, though she is refered to as "Offred" meaning Of Fred. She is part of a society called the Republic of Gilead that has taken over what would now be known as Massachussets. It is a theocratic society that has effectively removed the rights of women to the point where they have no purpose other than child rearing or in some cases house cleaning/maintenance.
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The review of this Book prepared by Tristan Wicks

This story occurs in a time and place where women have had all rights taken away from them. A radical religious faction uses the US military to kill the president, vice president, and all congressmen. They then declare themselves leaders of the US government. This fundamentalist government slowly saps women's rights. They dissolve women's credit and force companies to fire female employees. Women are no longer allowed to read or write. Eventually, they declare all second marriages invalid and all wives of these marriages subject to deportation or service as handmaids.

Offred chooses to become a handmaid. After a period of training at the “Red Center”, she is assigned to a series of households ending with the household of a high-ranking Commander, Fred. Her roles in this household are shopping for food and bearing children for the commander. She lives and works around a number of different women, separated into distinct societal roles: Marthas, Wives, Econowives, Aunts, and Handmaids.

Once every month the Commander has sex with Offred while his wife sits behind her, holding her hands. This emotionless physical contact does not give Offred the slightest idea that the Commander cares about her situation. However, within a few months the Commander invites her to meet with him in secret, an offense punishable by death. They play scrabble and the Commander brings Offred old books and magazines to read, another offense punishable by death. Soon after, Offred becomes involved with the underground resistance network Mayday. She gives information gleaned from her meetings with the Commander to her contact in the resistance, Ofglen.

Through these months, Offred has not yet borne a child. The Commander's wife, Serena Joy, comes to the conclusion that her husband is probably sterile.   Serena Joy wants a child so badly that she bribes Offred to have sex with Nick. Offred becomes so caught up in this affair that she stops gleaning information from Fred for the resistance. Matters come to a head when the government discovers Ofglen's treasonous activities. Offred is taken away in a mysterious black van to a place where she records her story onto cassette tapes, which are found a few hundred years later and presented at an acacemic conference by Professor Pieixoto.

The review of this Book prepared by Rebecca

This is a story about a religious soceity that takes over the sane minded population. I believe it takes place in the immediate future after some sort of war but only by subtle clues. The details of who and why and where are not specified but you get a pretty good idea by reading the book. Anyway, this society slowly takes over and eventually they run everything, even reproduction. Women are given the choice to either be sent to "the Colonies" (a radioactive area where they send all those unwilling to conform), or become a handmaid. Handmaids wear red robes, white blinders, do the shopping and, oh yeah, go through "the Ceremony" once a month (presumably during ovulation because that war I mentioned before seems to have sterilized a great many women, "the ceremony" is how most couples have kids, with the help of a handmaid). In the new soceity, you are not allowed to see your previous kids, family, porn, or the other handmaids.
The review of this Book prepared by Frannie

Following a terrorist attack, a radical sect takes over the United States, and control of women's bodies. Those who have proven their ability to reproduce (a rarity in a time when pollution and abortion have ruined many people's bodies) are forced to become "handmaids," sexual servants of men in high government positions. This story is told by one of those women, stripped of her true name but not her memories of the life before, when she was allowed to read, travel freely, be married and care for her child. Fitting into this new system is difficult, but failure to conform results in facing the ultimate punishment.
The review of this Book prepared by Sarah White

In the republic of Gilead environmental situations have left a large proportion of the population sterile. New laws say that the privileged few from high society are allowed a handmaiden as a sex slave. They must sleep with this handmaiden once a month for two years in a attempt to impregnate her and continue the race. Offred, a handmaiden, wonders whether this is her place in society for life or if she can somehow break out. She makes contact with the underground and attempts to find information about her lost husband and child. Later she realises that the only way to break out of her place in society is to fight for the change that she desires.
The review of this Book prepared by Neil Morey

Dystopia in which narrator is a Handmaid, with the sole purpose of reproducing. This society is far right, and is created when the country is sent into a state of emergency after the president is assassinated.
The review of this Book prepared by a Level 1 Blue Jay scholar

Under the autocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead, in the near future after Protestant fundamentalists have taken over the government, young fertile women are dubbed Handmaids and forced to couple once a month with aristrocratic men with the aim of continuing the race. (Pollution and nuclear accidents have left many sterile.) Most other rights have been taken away from women as well. Offred, a Handmaid, serves the Commander, wonders whether her husband and daughter are still alive, endures the jealousy of the Commander's wife, and learns a little about the resistance from another Handmaid of her acquaintance, Ofglen. Will Offred prove her worth to her superiors by becoming pregnant? Is there any other way out of this predicament? Atwood, a Canadian novelist, had a bestseller and won over many readers with this excellent literary portrait of a dystopia with a few elements not that different from societies of the past.
The review of this Book prepared by David Loftus

Chapter Analysis of The Handmaid's Tale

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 40%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 30%Descript. of society, phenomena (tech), places 30% Tone of book    -   depressing/sad FANTASY or SCIENCE FICTION?    -   science fiction story Repressive society story    -   Yes Repressive because:    -   controls your sex Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Who's a slave/repressed?    -   women are slaves

Main Character

Identity:    -   Female Profession/status:    -   slave Age:    -   20's-30's


Earth setting:    -   near future (later in 21st century)    -   current (early 21st century) Takes place on Earth?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   moderately detailed references to deaths scientific jargon? (SF only)    -   none/very little science jargon needed Sex in book?    -   Yes What kind of sex:    -   impregnation/reproduction    -   society controls main character's sexing    -   actual description of sex How much dialogue?    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Margaret Atwood Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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