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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Quotes


There's always a black market, there's always something that can be exchanged.

Offred, Chapter 3

Offred recognizes that exchanges and transactions are a fundamental part of human interactions; she is always alert for something she can exchange, even though she has no possessions of her own.


It was true, I took too much for granted; I trusted fate, back then.

Offred, Chapter 5

After Offred considers her carelessness in keeping plastic bags in reach of her daughter, she connects this assessment of taking things for granted to other items: freedom, choices, her loved ones. This regret comes up frequently in the novel as Offred considers all that has been lost.


There is more than one kind of freedom ... Freedom to and freedom from.

Aunt Lydia, Chapter 5

Aunt Lydia suggests that these two kinds of freedom are exclusive. While the women of Gilead do not have the freedom to love, marry, work, or procreate as they choose, they are free from obscenities, catcalls, and violence. Aunt Lydia suggests there is a value in freedom from that should not be underrated.


This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will.

Aunt Lydia, Chapter 6

Aunt Lydia argues that one of the powers of the totalitarian state is its ability to recondition people's responses. What once was horrible becomes ordinary; what once was horrible becomes normal.


If it's a story I'm telling, then I have control over the ending.

Offred, Chapter 7

The admission that this story is a story, a reconstruction of events, is an essential element of Offred's narrative style and her control over her life. She revisits this idea often, noting that she dislikes telling this story but feels compelled to finish it. In the end, this story becomes a primary historical source for the frame of the novel.


I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose.

Offred, Chapter 12

While language can be a tool used to remove identity, Offred shows that it also has the power to create or preserve identity.


My name isn't Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it's forbidden.

Offred, Chapter 14

Offred's true name, which readers never learn, is an anchor of her true identity. Making this name forbidden is a way government authorities remove individuality from Offred and other Handmaids.


In reduced circumstances the desire to live attaches itself to strange objects.

Offred, Chapter 19

The desire to live—to survive—is present in Offred, no matter how passive she seems. She endures her circumstances, despite periodic thoughts of suicide, because she wants to continue living. This will to live causes small pleasures, such as having a pet, to gain great importance.


Moira had power ..., she'd set herself loose. She was ... a loose woman.

Offred, Chapter 22

While many of the women at the Red Center have begun to "los[e] the taste for freedom" as victims of state indoctrination, Moira reclaims her power by setting herself free from the center. The pun "loose woman" is also suggestive of a reclamation of Moira's identity as a sexual being.


To want is to have a weakness.

Offred, Chapter 23

Offred frequently tries to identify other people's desires, thinking that there could a possible exchange from which she might benefit. At the same time, Offred herself is no longer permitted to want anything, from her daughter to her identity.


How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all.

Offred, Chapter 24

Offred thinks this about a Nazi's mistress and connects it to the way she views the Commander as sad and lonely, humanizing him despite his lack of compassion.


A rat in a maze is free ..., as long as it stays inside the maze.

Offred, Chapter 27

The government of Gilead grants its people, especially its women, the illusion of freedom. Offred's bedroom, her daily walk, and her role in society is a maze of confinement. Yet the decision about whether to walk to the Wall or to the church, for example, grants the illusion of freedom within the confinement.


Better never means better for everyone ... It always means worse, for some.

The Commander, Chapter 32

The Commander believes that the society he helps create is an improvement, but he grudgingly admits that it is only better for some people, while others must necessarily suffer. His commitment to and defense of Gilead's rules despite the fact that they dehumanize whole segments of society is a key element of his characterization.

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