Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; The Year of the Flood; MaddAddam; and her most recent, The Heart Goes Last. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.
Date of Birth:November 18, 1939
Place of Birth:Ottawa, Ontario
Education:B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967
from the Introduction
Excerpted from "The Handmaid's Tale (Movie Tie-in)"
Copyright © 2017 Margaret Atwood.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
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“Atwood has peered behind the curtain into some of the darkest, most secret, yet oddly erotic corners of the mind, and the result is a fascinating, wonderfully written, and disturbing cautionary tale.”
“A novel that will both chill and caution readers and which may challenge everyday assumptions.…It is an imaginative accomplishment of a high order. . . . ”
–London Free Press
“Moving, vivid and terrifying. I only hope it is not prophetic.”
–Conor Cruise O’Brien
“A novel that brilliantly illuminates some of the darker interconnections of politics and sex.…Satisfying, disturbing and compelling.”
“The most poetically satisfying and intense of all Atwood’s novels.”
“It deserves an honored place on the small shelf of cautionary tales that have entered modern folklore – a place next to, and by no means inferior to, Brave New World and 1984.”
“Deserves the highest praise.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood has written the most chilling cautionary novel of the century.”
“Imaginative, even audacious, and conveys a chilling sense of fear and menace.”
–Globe and Mail
“Margaret Atwood’s novels tickle our deepest sexual and psychological fears. The Handmaid’s Tale is a sly and beautifully crafted story about the fate of an ordinary woman caught off guard by extraordinary events. . . . A compelling fable of our time.”
“This visionary novel, in which God and Government are joined, and America is run as a Puritanical Theocracy, can be read as a companion volume to Orwell’s 1984 –its verso, in fact. It gives you the same degree of chill, even as it suggests the varieties of tyrannical experience; it evokes the same kind of horror even as its mordant wit makes you smile.”
–E. L. Doctorow
1. The novel begins with three epigraphs. What are their functions?
2. In Gilead, women are categorized as wives, handmaids, Marthas, or Aunts, but Moira refuses to fit into a niche. Offred says she was like an elevator with open sides who made them dizzy; she was their fantasy. Trace Moira's role throughout the tale to determine what she symbolizes.
3. Aunt Lydia, Janine, and Offred's mother also represent more than themselves. What do each of their characters connote? What do the style and color of their clothes symbolize?
4. At one level, The Handmaid's Tale is about the writing process. Atwood cleverly weaves this sub-plot into a major focus with remarks by Offred such as "Context is all, " and "I've filled it out for her, " "I made that up, " and "I wish this story were different." Does Offred's habit of talking about the process of storytelling make it easier or more difficult for you to suspend disbelief?
5. A palimpsest is a medieval parchment that scribes attempted to scrape clean and use again, though they were unable to obliterate all traces of the original. How does the new republic of Gilead's social order often resemble a palimpsest?
6. The Commander in the novel says you can't cheat nature. How do characters find ways to follow their natural instincts?
7. Why is the Bible under lock and key in Gilead?
8. Babies are referred to as "a keeper, " "unbabies, " "shredders." What other real or fictional worlds do these terms suggest?
9. Atwood's title brings to mind titles from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Why might Atwood have wanted you tomake that connection?
10. What do you feel the "Historical Notes" at the book's end add to the reading of this novel? What does the book's last line mean to you?