Reading Guides: The Handmaid’s Tale

Each month (or when I can actually create my own) I’ll be posting points discussed at my book club for those who are curious about what we talk about ( including points made prior, but not discussed) or need a reading guide for the book for their own clubs. You’ll find a list of all reading guides on the reading guides page. You’re welcome to use it and to adapt the questions to your own social group use, but if you do and have a website or blog please link back using the following banner.

January’s book was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The following points are ones I prepared beforehand and they do contain spoilers.

The Beginning

  • Close to the beginning of the story, Offred says, “I am not being wasted. Why do I want?” With what you already know about the story, what impression does this give to you about Offred?
  • When Offred goes shopping, she mentions how there are no words or letters; signs have been replaced with images. While shopping she says, “They decided names of shops was too tempting.” What do you think she means by that?
  • When it comes to someone looking at a Handmaid’s face, Aunt Lydia says to be seen is to be penetrated, what inkling does this give you about the society and their mindset?

The Story

  • Offred does not say an exact date, but alludes to how long it has been since everything changed making it approximately 4 years at the beginning of the story. Does it surprise you how quickly the female side of the society accepted its fate?
  • Several times Offred and others mention how the women are protected now in society, in what way do they seem to be protected? Are there any positives to how the society has changed in that way?
  • At the school, Aunt Lydia shows porno videos as an example of how women used to be treated and disrespected. Do you think that was an effective tool to prove a point? Or is it one in the same thing to how they are being treated now?

Offred

  • Do you think the women in Offred’s life are justified in their treatment of her, in particular when it is of the negative kind? Is the Commander’s Wife justified? Why, or why not?
  • Which character do you think would suit your reaction to the situation? Would you a) accept what is going on and try to assimilate as best as possible (Offred)? b) Rebel and try to escape (Martha)? c) Act the part, but join a resistance of sorts (or act on your own) and try to gather Intel (Ofglen)? d) Co-operate and try to move yourself into a position of power (The Aunts)?
  • Offred says she chose her current situation, but did she really have a choice?
  • What position would you choose to be in, if the option of choosing was up to you? Would you be either a Martha? A Wife? An Aunt? Or go to The Colonies?
  • If you had the option of going to the Colonies, knowing what would await you, but was presented with the small hope of going to one that picked cotton or fruit, would you go or take one of the above mentioned positions instead?
  • What is your impression of the Commander? Does it change as Offred’s interaction with him does?
  • Were you surprised when the Commander requested scrabble? What were you expecting and does it tie in with the presumptions of other characters in the book? What do you think this says about the minds of human kind?
  • Throughout the story, Offred says how she wished to not be telling certain parts of it, yet she continues. Why do you think she does this?

Before

  • Further into the story we find out what happened to Offred in the beginning when she was a wife and mother. One of the things we learn is how in the one day she was dismissed from work and her accounts frozen. What do you make of her reaction? Do you think she accepted it too easily? What do you think you would do in that situation?
  • When her husband Luke finds out about her employment and funds, Offred isn’t too happy about his reaction. What are your impressions to his reaction? Do you agree with Offred that he may be enjoying it?
  • The cat: How did you feel about what happened to the cat? Do you think they could have done something different?

The Ending

  • How did you feel about Offred and the novel when you reached the end of Offred’s tale? How did that make you feel?
  • When it comes to the ending of Offred’s tale, then the continuation of the story with the History Notes, does your view of the story change after reading that last part? In which way?
  • If you haven’t read Atwood’s novels before, are you considering it after reading The Handmaid’s Tale? If you have read her work before, would you recommend this book to others as an introduction to Atwood?
  • Will you recommend The Handmaid’s Tale to others? Why or why not?
  • What have you taken away from reading The Handmaid’s Tale? What sticks in your mind?

Writing Style

  • The narrative has a way of being descriptive in a sense, but not in the way of describing the room or scenes. To what effect does this give the story and what do you think the objective is because of it?
  • When Offred speaks to others there are no speech marks, but there are speech marks when speeches are given, how does this affect the story for you? What does it signify?

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