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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Margaret Atwood | Biography


Born in Ottawa on November 18, 1939, Margaret Atwood is a prolific Canadian writer who has published in multiple genres, including poetry, essays, nonfiction, short stories, and novels. As a child, Atwood spent time in the woods of Ontario and Quebec, where her father, a biologist, pursued his research. Her parents encouraged her to read, get an education, and use her intelligence. However, when she decided she wanted to become a writer, she found little precedent for becoming a female Canadian novelist or poet. Professional writing was considered a man's career.

After earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, Atwood moved to the United States for graduate school, attending both Radcliffe College and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This city, and Harvard University, provides the landscape of The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood's Canadian identity equips her with an observer's perspective of U.S. culture, including the Puritan roots on which the New England culture is based.

The Handmaid's Tale was well received, but evaluations of the possible reality of its bleak dystopian future where a totalitarian government reduces its citizen to social roles and biological functions were more mixed. A New York Times book review condescendingly suggested that a Gilead-like society was unlikely to develop. Yet the novel has been hugely successful, with millions of copies sold and a movie adaptation made in 1990. As awareness of the women's issues that the novel addresses has increased worldwide, the novel's resonance has grown.

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