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The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood

  • Use this assignment sheet as a template and write a paragraph of FIVE SENTENCES OR MORE in response to each prompt.
  • Write your response in the color of your choice, as long as it isn’t too light and hard to read, such as yellow.
  • Use your own words to respond to each question. You may do research, but Do NOT quote or paraphrase sources from the internet.
  • Leave a blank line between the question and the response. Leave a blank line after your response and before the next question.

Summary: The Republic of Gilead has replaced the United States of America. Gilead is a totalitarian, christian theocracy in which disobeying the biblical-based laws can get you killed. Women are the focus of the oppression. They are forbidden to read, have no autonomy, and are valued most if they can get pregnant. The main character, Offred, narrates her experience as a handmaid in this dystopian near future.

  1. In Gilead, handmaids are given a new name based on the name of the male head of the household, such as the narrator’s name Offred, Of-Fred. What are some reasons the Republic of Gilead might have for stripping these women of their original names? Are there any modern-day customs that are similar?
  2. The Ceremony is a shocking practice at the heart of the novel and central to the Republic of Gilead. This ritual requires Offred to have sex with the Commander while lying back in the arms of the Commander’s wife, Serena Joy. What is the biblical justification for this practice? What has happened to fertility rates to inspire this practice? Why does Offred go along with this practice? How does the Commander seem to feel about the Ceremony? Why might Serena Joy agree to perform this ritual? Is the Ceremony rape? What do you think you would do if you were Offer, or Serena Joy, or the Commander?
  3. How do you Aunt Lydia feels about her role in training and conditioning young woman to become handmaids? Does she enjoy it? Is she reluctant? Does she have regrets? How might Aunt Lydia use the Bible to justify her role? How might Aunt Lydia benefit from her role?
  4. How does the Republic of Gilead use religion as a tool to gain and maintain power? How is the Bible used to structure society? For instance, why are there no women in positions of power, only men? Why aren’t women allowed to read? Why is all the domestic help woman who are referred to as Marthas? How are men who are not in leadership treated?

Let’s try to make some connections between The Handmaid’s Tale and contemporary America and the world. Feel free to do some research regarding the first amendment and separation of church and state. But use your own words in responding to the questions:

5. The United States has a secular, non-religious government. In your own words, explain what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said the first amendment to the constitution is meant to guarantee a “wall of separation between church and state.”

6. A popular saying goes, “Americans have freedom of religion but also freedom from religion.” What do you think in meant by this phrase? What does it mean to have freedom OF religion? What does it meant to have freedom FROM religion?

7. The Handmaid’s Tale was publish in 1985. Author Margaret Atwood said, “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.” Today, in 2020, some politicians and religious leaders have claimed the United States of America is a “Christian nation” and would like to see our nation’s law based solely on so-called “biblical law.” Do you think this is a good idea? What role do you think religion should play in government? Do you think it’s possible the United States could become a theocracy similar to the Republic of Gilead, or present day theocracies, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Vatican City?

8.What is your personal reaction to The Handmaid’s Tale? Did you find the story disturbing, laughable, plausible, implausible, relevant, irrelevant? What characters did you identify with? Have you ever felt oppressed in your own life? Have you ever felt like you were categorized and placed in a box in which you didn’t belong? Was there a time in your life you felt like Offred? Or Serena Joy, Aunt Lydia, or a Martha? Was there a time you felt like the Commander?