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The Handmaid's Tale: Epigraph and Ch. 1-7 The opening epigraphs...

The Handmaid's Tale: Epigraph and Ch. 1-7



The opening epigraphs

Readers do have some clues about the direction in which Atwood's thoughts have taken her, and her attitudes to the events she is about to depict, from the three epigraphs she inserts before Chapter 1 - quotations which make her readers think carefully about what is to come as they start the novel.

An epigraph is a quotation or comment put at the start of a work in order to indicate the main ideas to be covered. The three epigraphs used by Margaret Atwood at the start of The Handmaid's Tale should certainly make readers think.

Epigraph 1

The first quotation is from the first book of the Bible, Genesis, describing how the infertile Rachel told her husband Jacob to have intercourse with her handmaid. 

 

Epigraph 2

The second quotation points the reader to Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal - a deeply ironic work (published in 1729) which attacks the cruelty and selfishness of the wealthy English and their treatment of the starving Irish. Swift pretends to offer as a serious answer to food shortages the proposition that those Irish who cannot feed their children should eat them. His shocking satire makes his readers see their contemporary situation in a new light. The reference by Atwood to Swift's work is an indication to her readers that her purposes are also satirical and that she wants them to look with a new, more critical eye at late twentieth-century society.

Epigraph 3

The third quotation of a Sufi proverb - 'In the desert there is no sign that says, Thou shalt not eat stones' - is more open to interpretation:

  • A possible meaning is that in the desert there is nothing to eat except stones, but no-one wants to eat them, for they cannot sustain life. In other words, there is no point in prohibiting something that no-one wants to do anyway
  • It could also mean - live with what you have, however terrible or life destroying it is.

In Gilead, so many things are prohibited, and people have little chance of doing what is prohibited - they live in 'reduced circumstances' - but the human instinct for survival needs no direction. Rigorous tyrannies such as Gilead purport to know what is good for society, but human freedom is more important.

https://crossref-it.info/textguide/the-handmaids-tale/31/2098








Questions:

Epigraph

  1. Based on the clues in the epigraphs, what can you infer The Handmaid's Tale will be about?



https://icmotrospaises.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/the-handmaids-tale-margaret-atwood.pdf


Ch.1-7

Make a list of the ways, revealed in this chapter, by which the people in power in Gilead now control people's lives, especially those of the women.

Ch.4

  1. Look up the Biblical quotations used in this chapter.  
  2. 'The car is... a Whirlwind, better than the Chariot (or) the chunky, practical Behemoth' - 2 Kings 2:11/Job 40:15-24
  3. 'perhaps he is an Eye' - Proverbs 15:3
  4. 'Some of you will fall on dry ground, or thorns' - Luke 8: 4-15
  5. 'Blessed be the fruit' - Genesis 1:28
  6. 'Praise be... I receive with joy' - 2 Corinthians 1:3/Luke 8:13

In what ways has Gilead twisted these quotes for its own purposes? 

Ch.5

  1. Why are there few words around the shopping signs, etc.?
  2. "Women were not protected then" pg. 30.  This is the heart of the ideology that underlies the founding of Gilead.  What does it mean, and how has it been twisted to oppress?
  3. How are the Japanese women different from the women of Gilead?  What is the purpose of this contrast?

Ch.6 

  1. What is the function of the Wall?
  2. Why have these doctors been executed?

Ch. 7

  1. What has Offred lost from her life?



Ch. 21

  1. Explain how the birthing allows all of the women of various statuses to connect as one unit?
  2. What is the role of the doctor in this Birthing Day?
  3. Describe the birthing event

Ch.22

  1. How has Moira been able to escape?
  2. In what way is Moira a "loose woman" (note the pun). How is she both a hero and a threat to the rest of the Handmaids?

Ch.23

  1. What are Offred's intentions as stated in the first two paragraphs?
  2. Why is the Commander trying to make changes to his "relationship" with Offred?
  3. Playing scrabble seems like an absurdly trivial form of transgression; why is it significant in this setting?
  4. Note Offred's "intended reaction" (violently stabbing the Commander) when he asks her to kiss him vs her actual reaction (kissing him). Explain how Atwood has stylistically used Offred's point of view in a unique manner to add suspense to the narrative.

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