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The Handmaid's Tale Discussion Guide: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

Information about the author and her work is available at http://www.notablebiographies.com/An-Ba/Atwood-Margaret.html

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Did you know Margaret Atwood tweets? Follow her here   Atwood is one of the inventors of the Long Pen, which allows her to meet and sign books for her fans all over the world from her own home.  Margaret Atwood's life partner is another writer, Graeme Gibson.

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Did you know?

The Handmaid's Tale has been adapted into a film (1990), an opera (2000) and a TV series (2017).  The book was #37 on the top 100 most frequently banned books between 1990 - 2000. The Handmaid's Tale won the 1985 Governor General's Award and the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987.

Discussion Questions

From litlovers:

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 to make 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?

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