1. Describe the setting.
2. Do you understand what’s going on? Who the narrator is? Where she is? What she is doing? If this chapter is confusing, why would Atwood present the opening in this difficult, perhaps frustrating way?
1. Describe the setting of chapter 2.
2. Why would ‘they’ have removed anything in the room a rope could be tied to?
3. Name (by proper name or title) all the people who live in the house.
4. Describe what you think the duties of ‘the Marthas’ are. What race do the Marthas seem to be? Why might this be so?
1. Why is the narrator uncomfortable with the Commander’s Wife?
2. Who is the narrator? Why do you think she is at the Commander’s house?
3. Does the narrator have her own family, any friends?
4. Describe the clothes the narrator wears.
5. What was the Commander’s Wife’s real name? What did she do on TV?
1. What is the Guardian’s real name?
2. What do you think an ‘Eye’ is? Why would such a thing be necessary?
3. What are the duties of the Guardians?
1. What is the name of the place where the story is taking place?
2. What are Econowives?
3. What were the dangers that women faced in the time before?
Write a one page response on the conditions women face today. Can women walk alone at night? Should they run in parks by themselves? Should they accept rides or car help from strangers? Do these dangers also affect men?
If we, men and women, are free today, why are there so many dangers for women, so many things women can’t or shouldn’t do? Include in your response, your understanding of what “Freedom to” and “Freedom from” mean.
1. What is the function of the Wall?
2. Why have the doctors been executed?
3. What is significant about the shift to the present tense in “Luke wasn’t a doctor. Isn’t?”
1. To what time can Offred travel in her imagination that can be called “good?”
2. The narrator’s pun on ‘date rape’ depends on the fact that ‘rape’ means ‘grated’ or ‘shredded’ in French; a date is a fruit of course. Be careful not to leap to the conclusion that Atwood is mocking the concept of date rape; her attitude is far more complex than that. But why is this reference especially appropriate to the present context?
3. What was the narrator’s reaction as a little girl to her mother’s participation in the burning of pornographic magazines? What relevance does this memory have to her present situation?
4. The next passage is too fragmented to make much sense now, though more context will be provided later. What can you guess about it’s meaning now? Stories are rarely told in the present tense, as this one is. If a narrator speaks in the past tense, we can be fairly confident that she knows the end of her own story, and that she has survived to tell it. Note how much more open-ended and suspenseful Offred’s narrative is.
1. What is ‘Gender Treachery?’
2. If a miscarried fetus may or may not be an ‘Unbaby,’ what would an ‘Unbaby’ seem to be?
3. Why is the narrator startled at the end of the chapter when she realizes that she has called the room ‘mine?’
1. What feelings does the narrator have as she looks back on the early days of her affair with Luke?
2. What does she find in the cupboard in her room? What do you guess these words could mean?
1. Why are the words to the hymn Amazing Grace now considered subversive?
3. What sorts of memories does she keep returning to in this chapter?
1. What do we learn about the Handmaid system during the scene at the doctor’s office?
2. “Give me children, or else I die.” (Genesis 30:1)
3. Deuteronomy 17:6 requires that for a couple to be stoned to death on account of adultery there has to be two witnesses to the act.
1. What does it mean when Offred says: “I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely?”
2. The old sexist society was said to reduce women to mere physical objects. Has this changed? Explain.
3. What does Offred suggest by saying of the attempted kidnapping of her daughter,”I thought it was an isolated incident, at the time?”
1. What do you think about her comments on boredom as erotic?
2. Offred lets herself go back in time to when she was in training with Moira. Do you think anyone blames women for being raped today? Why/not?
3. What do her dreams about her husband and daughter have in common?
4. What do you think she means by “Of all the dreams this is the worst?”
locales seem to be on the edge of
2. We are finally told the narrator’s name is ‘Offred,’ though it isn’t her real name. Why do you think we are never told her real name?
was the family warned not to look too happy when they are trying to escape
1. Do you know the real source of the quotation, “From each according to her ability; to each according to his needs?” (It has been slightly but significantly altered.)
2. How valid is the use of sadistic porn films by the Aunts to argue against the old society?
3. What themes of the women’s movement is Atwood blending together here? What do you think her attitude toward them is?
4. What are the main tensions between Offred and her mother? Why did she rebel against her mother as a young woman? How does she feel about her mother now?
1. What do we learn in this chapter about how an “Unwoman” is defined?
2. The reference to a ‘woman’s culture’ at the end of the chapter refers to certain kinds of feminists who have argued that women possess superior values and could build a superior society. What is Offred’s attitude toward this idea?
1. In what way is Moira a ‘loose woman?’
1. How does Offred try to defend herself against her terror when she first enters the study?
2. Playing Scrabble seems like an absurdly trivial form of transgression; why is it significant in this setting?
3. Why does she lie about her reaction when the Commander asks her to kiss him?
does Offred interpret Aunt
2. What does the story about the death camp commander’s mistress convey? In ancient medicine, hysteria was a disease of women, caused by unnatural movements of the womb. How does Offred describe the sound of her beating heart?
1. Why does Offred covet Serena Joy’s shears? What do these occasional dark comments tell us about the state of her mind underneath her usual bitterly sarcastic narrative?
1. How have her feelings changed toward the Commander? How have his feelings changed toward her?
1. What do Ofglen and Offred see immediately after they have revealed their true views to each other?
Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale