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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 19 : Birth Day | Summary



The chapters in the "Birth Day" section include Offred's participation in the birthing ritual as Ofwarren has her baby.

Offred begins, "I'm dreaming that I am awake." In this dream, Offred's daughter runs to meet her, but as she picks up her child, she realizes it is a dream. She wakes from this dream into another dream in which her mother brings her something to eat on a tray.

Then she truly awakens. Her breakfast is interrupted by the siren of a red Birthmobile. Ofwarren is about to have her baby. Offred and the other Handmaids ride in the Birthmobile to attend the birth. She wonders whether it will be a baby or an Unbaby—a baby with severe deformities who will be quickly killed. Toxic pollution has caused a loss of fertility for many people and a 25 percent chance of having a baby with terrible birth defects for those who are not completely sterile. In light of this situation, some women have made themselves intentionally infertile to avoid the fate of the Handmaids.

The Birthmobile arrives at the home of Ofwarren, and the Handmaids disembark. Doctors wait outside the house, as they are only allowed to enter in cases of emergency. In Gilead, women are not allowed to have any painkillers during birth.

A separate blue Birthmobile arrives, bringing the Wives to the birth.


Offred offers insight into her life of reduced means, in which she has lost her freedom as well as her ability to own material possessions. What is she able to own? She can possess sanity: "Sanity is a valuable possession." What pleasures is she able to experience? Small sensory details of life provide pleasure, such as the way an egg seems to glow in the sunlight. What power does she have? The power to "compose herself" with words.

The break from routine that comes from a baby's birth is another insight into just how limited Offred's existence is. On most days, she is captive to routine—she gets up, gets dressed, eats breakfast, goes shopping with Ofglen, returns home, sits in her room, and so on. Anything that breaks this routine is a kind of freedom.

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