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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 7 : Night | Summary



It is night, and although the narrator must stay still and quiet in her bed, she can wander in her thoughts. She first chooses a college memory of studying, wearing makeup, and going out for a drink with her friend Moira. Then she chooses a childhood memory of going to a park with her mother, where a crowd is gathered to burn pornographic magazines. As she watches the magazine photos burning, her recollection becomes disjointed and confused. In the memory, time is lost—years. She thinks she must have been restrained and drugged, and when she is conscious again, her daughter has been taken away. She is told she is unfit, and there are new people taking care of her child. She is shown a photograph of her daughter wearing a long white dress.

The chapter ends as the narrator describes her life as being both like and unlike a story. It is like a story in that she is narrating events; it is unlike a story in that she cannot control the ending and there is no real life to return to afterward. She also makes the distinction that she must tell the story, not write it, and that there must be an audience, even if it is only an invented you.


The narrator experiences a kind of liberty of choice by revisiting memories in her mind. She finds refuge in her memory of Moira. She revisits her mother, even though, as a child, she does not quite understand that her mother's feminist group is burning pornographic magazines. However, these happier memories are hijacked by a gap in memory and followed by the terrible memory of losing her daughter. Does she really have the liberty to go where she will, even in her mind? It seems that the answer may be no. She is captive to her terrible memories.

The narrator addresses this issue in the final paragraphs of the chapter. "If it's a story I'm telling, then I have control over the ending. ... It isn't a story I'm telling." Yet she acknowledges she is telling a story: "It's also a story I'm telling in my head, as I go along." On the one hand, she must face the reality of her story to maintain her identity, but on the other hand, she must control the way the narrative moves through these events. This small amount of control protects her from the madness that may result in facing the entire terrible reality at one time.

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