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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 20 : Birth Day | Summary



Both Wives and Handmaids gather for the birth. Ofwarren is in labor in a birthing room. The Handmaids and Aunts gather around Ofwarren, preparing for the birthing ritual. The Wives gather around Warren's Wife, who mimics labor. Ofwarren's Commander is absent.

Offred recalls lessons from the Red Center. In this memory, Aunt Lydia shows them films of women being raped and beaten, explaining that the Handmaids must make sacrifices so that those who come after them will have an easier time. She also shows them films of the so-called Unwomen. In one of these films, Offred sees her own mother holding a banner in a feminist protest march. She remembers her mother as a strong woman, a woman who fought for women's rights, and she misses her even though they frequently disagreed over politics. Offred also recalls the disappearance of Moira, who did not report to breakfast one morning.


The slogan Offred recalls from lessons at the Red Center, "From each, according to her ability; to each according to his needs," is not a biblical text as she has been told. It is based on a quotation from the writings of Karl Marx, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," and is associated with communism. The only biblical passage that is similar is Acts 4:34–35: "For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need." However, once again, Offred has no means of checking the factual basis of the government's propaganda. As the government controls the language of the culture, so it controls the people.

The slogans written on the signs in Aunt Lydia's Unwomen documentaries are feminist and women's rights slogans. The term Unwomen is used to characterize those who support women's rights, including the right to control reproductive processes. Here again the government uses language to strip women who disagree with its politics of their gender identities, as the prefix un- means "not" or "the opposite of."

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