The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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10 ‘ I hear where your coming from’ – 1980s slang, amusingly regarded by Offred as outdated.

11 ‘How I used to despise such talk.’ – Offred has a Harvard education, and is something of an intellectual (though it is remarkable how little history she knows).

11 ‘ Stabbed her with a knitting needle right in the belly’ – There is a theme of suppressed violence running through the novel. Offred frequently imagines herself in possession of a knife or Serena Joy’s shears. The regime attempts to channel these violent feelings through public executions – ‘salvagings’ and ‘particicutions’ – and by displaying corpses on the ‘Wall’.

11 ‘Or I would help Rita to make the bread, sinking my hands into that soft resistant warmth which is so much like flesh’ – Denied any normal sexual expression, Offred’s mind turns frequently to this sort of mild fantasy.

Chapter Three

12 ‘the tulips are opening their cups, spilling out colour’ – The continuing fertility of the natural world parodies the sterility of Gilead. Offred frequently focuses on flowers, often describing them in vivid and sensuous language. They are, perhaps, a relief from the bland uniformity of her life.

12 ‘Many of the Wives have such gardens, it’s something for them to order and maintain and care for.’ – Wives, like Serena Joy, have lost both their autonomy and their right to work. Their gardens provide a kind of substitute; caring for growing plants is also probably intended as a substitute for caring for a family.

12 ‘the plump shapes of bulbs’ – more sensuous plant imagery from Offred. Here the bulbs suggest fecundity.

13 ‘they aren’t scarves for grown men, but for children’ – emphasising Serena Joy’s childlessness.

14 ‘Her knitting was on the floor beside the chair, her needles stuck through it.’ – This reminds the reader of the knitting needle ‘in the belly’ of the previous chapter – a second instance of the novel’s theme of suppressed violence.

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