The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 21 : Birth Day | Summary

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Summary

As Janine (Ofwarren) labors, the Handmaids chant. The room is hot and loud. Offred asks one of the other Handmaids whether she knows anything of Moira. On Birth Days, the Handmaids take advantage of the chaos to exchange information.

As Janine nears the time for delivery, she is led to the two-seated Birthing Stool, and the lights are shut off. Warren's Wife sits behind Janine on the stool. Janine gives birth to a girl, and the baby is washed and given to the Wife, who names her Angela. Janine will nurse the baby for a short time before Janine is reassigned to a new family. This successful birth means that Janine will avoid being sent to the Colonies.

The scene causes Offred to remember the birth of her own daughter and the happiness she felt at that time. She also recalls her own mother and the goal of her feminist group to create a "women's culture."

The Handmaids get back into the Birthmobile and return to their homes.

Analysis

The ritual of the birth parallels the Ceremony of conception, as the Handmaid lies between the legs of the Wife, who acts as a surrogate. The women celebrate Janine's success, but this success denies Janine the opportunity at motherhood. Instead of mothering her daughter, Janine will be reassigned to another family to begin the process of the Handmaid all over again, emphasizing her physical role in this practice.

Offred's mother and other feminists of her time worked to create a "women's culture." However, the women's culture of Gilead is not the one these women hoped for. Rather, it is shaped by oppression and defined by divisions, barriers, and betrayal. Just as the word freedom is manipulated in Gilead to mean something entirely its opposite, the idea that the women have a culture all their own is a façade.

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