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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter Summaries

See Chapter Summaries Chart

Timeline of Events

  • Late 1970s–early 1980s

    Offred and Luke have a love affair, marry, and have a daughter.

    Chapter 9
  • Mid-1980s

    The U.S. government is overthrown, and the Republic of Gilead is established.

    Chapter 5
  • Mid-1980s

    Offred's family escapes but is caught. Offred is taken to the Red Center to become a Handmaid

    Chapter 7
  • Three weeks after

    Moira, Offred's best friend from college, arrives at the Red Center.

    Chapter 13
  • Years later; winter

    Offred is assigned to the Commander as Handmaid, her third such posting.

    Chapter 2
  • Spring; May

    Nick catches Offred stealing a flower in Serena's sitting room the night of a Ceremony; they kiss.

    Chapter 17
  • Next day

    The Commander and Offred begin meeting secretly.

    Chapter 23
  • Summer; July

    The Commander takes Offred to Jezebel's; later, Offred meets Nick to have sex.

    Chapter 36
  • Summer

    The Handmaids kill a man. Ofglen hangs herself when she realizes the Eyes are coming for her.

    Chapter 43
  • Summer

    The Eyes come for Offred, but Nick tells her to trust him and go with them.

    Chapter 46

Chapter Summaries Chart

Chapter Summary
Chapter 1 The opening chapter is in a section headed "Night"; six other sections have this name. Night gives the narrator an oppor... Read More
Chapter 2 The novel shifts into the present and the commencement of a shopping trip that will last for several chapters. Off... Read More
Chapter 3 Offred walks by the garden on her way to do the grocery shopping. The garden belongs to the Commander's Wife, who spends... Read More
Chapter 4 Offred walks toward the front gate, where Nick, a Guardian who lives at the house and works for the Commander, is washin... Read More
Chapter 5 The two Handmaids arrive in the Republic of Gilead. The area is subdued and tidy, and there are no children present. Off... Read More
Chapter 6 The two women decide to walk past the church on their way home from shopping. Their headdresses make it difficult for th... Read More
Chapter 7 It is night, and although the narrator must stay still and quiet in her bed, she can wander in her thoughts. She first c... Read More
Chapter 8 Offred is again at the Wall with Ofglen, where three new bodies hang. Offred suggests that they leave, and Ofglen says, ... Read More
Chapter 9 As Offred waits in the room she has now accepted as hers, by necessity if not by choice, she is reminded of the hotel ro... Read More
Chapter 10 Offred recalls song lyrics. She notes that there is very little music in the house or anywhere else for that matter. Tho... Read More
Chapter 11 Alone in her room again, Offred describes the previous day's events. She is driven to a monthly doctor's appointment by ... Read More
Chapter 12 Cora sits outside the bathroom as a guard against male intruders while Offred bathes. There is no worry of suicide becau... Read More
Chapter 13 This chapter falls in its own section, called "Nap." It spans the time between the narrator's bath and the next event. I... Read More
Chapter 14 Offred walks downstairs to the sitting room, where she kneels in her assigned location for the Ceremony and fantasizes a... Read More
Chapter 15 The chapters in the "Household" section reflect events in a home that revolve around the Commander. The Commander ... Read More
Chapter 16 During the Ceremony, Offred, lying between Serena Joy's legs and holding hands with her, must allow the Commander to hav... Read More
Chapter 17 Back in her room, Offred uses the butter she saved to moisturize her hands and face in the hope that she may one day lay... Read More
Chapter 18 After her encounter with Nick, Offred recalls being in bed with Luke. In the memory, she is pregnant and can feel the ba... Read More
Chapter 19 The chapters in the "Birth Day" section include Offred's participation in the birthing ritual as Ofwarren has her baby. ... Read More
Chapter 20 Both Wives and Handmaids gather for the birth. Ofwarren is in labor in a birthing room. The Handmaids and Aunts gather a... Read More
Chapter 21 As Janine (Ofwarren) labors, the Handmaids chant. The room is hot and loud. Offred asks one of the other Handmaids wheth... Read More
Chapter 22 Offred arrives back at the house and goes to her room, too tired to sleep. She begins to describe a memory of driving la... Read More
Chapter 23 Offred muses once again on the nature of narrative: "This is a reconstruction," she begins. She recognizes that all stor... Read More
Chapter 24 Offred returns to her room. She does not undress, as the red costume helps her focus on her thoughts. She refers to hers... Read More
Chapter 25 This chapter is the first of a series that fall under the section heading "Soul Scrolls." Soul Scrolls is a store in Gil... Read More
Chapter 26 Offred finds that the next Ceremony is awkward because of her arrangement with the Commander. She is self-conscious and ... Read More
Chapter 27 It is now full summer, and Offred walks with Ofglen to do the shopping. They are able to purchase fish, although it is n... Read More
Chapter 28 Offred sits in her room, looking out the window and feeling the summer breeze. She thinks of talking with Moira, who dis... Read More
Chapter 29 Offred meets with the Commander, and she asks him about the meaning of the Latin phrase in her room. He reveals that it ... Read More
Chapter 30 Offred looks out the window at the night. She sees Nick, toward whom she feels an attraction on which she cannot act. Sh... Read More
Chapter 31 This chapter is the first of nine that fall under the section heading "Jezebel's," named for a brothel. As Offred ... Read More
Chapter 32 Though she is excited by the prospect of smoking a cigarette, Offred considers throwing it down the toilet or eating it ... Read More
Chapter 33 Offred goes with Ofglen to the Prayvaganza, where young women will be given away in arranged marriages. On the way, she ... Read More
Chapter 34 The main event of the Prayvaganza is the giving away of daughters in arranged marriages to Angels (soldiers who fought i... Read More
Chapter 35 Offred begins again to tell the story of her family's escape. They have fake passports and a picnic cover story. At the ... Read More
Chapter 36 Offred visits the Commander's office again, where the Commander, who has been drinking ahead of time, gives Offred an il... Read More
Chapter 37 Inside the building, the rooms all have numbers on them, and Offred realizes it is an old hotel. She recognizes it as a ... Read More
Chapter 38 An Aunt is on guard in the ladies' room. As Moira emerges from a bathroom stall, the two friends greet each other with f... Read More
Chapter 39 The Commander takes Offred to one of the hotel rooms. She thinks about her conversation with Moira, recalling that Moira... Read More
Chapter 40 Back at home, Serena Joy fetches Offred at midnight, and she goes to Nick's apartment as planned. She tells the story of... Read More
Chapter 41 This chapter and the next four fall in the section headed "Salvaging." A Salvaging is a ceremony in which women are exec... Read More
Chapter 42 For the first time in two years, Offred goes to a Women's Salvaging on a lawn near the library. As always at these publi... Read More
Chapter 43 After the hangings, Aunt Lydia tells the Handmaids to form a circle for an event called a Particicution. Two Guardians b... Read More
Chapter 44 Offred eats lunch and goes to meet Ofglen to do their shopping. However, Ofglen has been replaced with another Handmaid.... Read More
Chapter 45 Offred is relieved that Ofglen's suicide means Ofglen was not forced to give up her secrets, although she considers that... Read More
Chapter 46 Offred sits in her room and waits for the inevitable. She considers the options: burn down the house, kill herself, beg ... Read More
Historical Notes on The Handmaid's Tale This section is presented as a transcript of a scholarly conference given in the distant future, on June 25, 2195. Gilea... Read More
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