The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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20 ‘the green uniforms of the Guardians of the Faith’ – The green implies a paramilitary aspect to Gilead’s police force.

21 ‘His face is long and mournful, like a sheep’s, but with the large full eyes of a dog’ – more animal imagery, here applied to a male.

21 ‘I think of placing my hand on it’ – Atwood again emphasises how Offred craves for any sort of intimacy with a man, even one she finds unattractive. It is the only way in which she can acquire some kind of status and leverage in this regime – as the rest of the story, in fact, will demonstrate.

21 ‘their long black murmurous cars’ – symbols of power still in almost every corner of the globe.

21 ‘a black-painted van with the winged eye in white on the side’ – A description which firmly attaches the image of the single eye – already established in the novel – to the Gilead regime.

21 ‘Nobody’s heart is perfect.’ – The phrase is, perhaps, deliberately ambiguous. It could mean ‘nobody is perfectly in line with the thinking of the regime,’ or ‘nobody has the courage to face up to the horrors perpetrated by the Eyes,’ or perhaps ‘nobody can assume their physical heart is capable of withstanding the shock of learning of their tortures.’

22 ‘I move my hips a little’ – Offred’s attempts to excite the Guardian indicate a rebellious streak: ‘old sex’ has not lost its power to disrupt things.

22 ‘I enjoy the power; power of a dog bone, passive but there.’ – The sentence encapsulates why Offred resorts to her sexuality, but it also reduces her metaphorically to something animal – or even inanimate.

Chapter Five

22 ‘Doubled, I walk the street.’ – Offred is literally doubled because she is walking beside another Handmaid dressed in identical garb; the idea of ‘doubling’, however, is an essential consequence of any oppressive totalitarian state. Each subject of such a regime must, to a greater or lesser extent, live two lives – one official and public, the other unofficial and private – and this is obviously true of Offred. To an extent this is tied into the division of the novel into ‘Nights’ and days.

22-3 ‘they’re like the beautiful pictures they used to print in the magazines’ – The ‘magazine world’ of material perfection has become a reality for the ‘lucky’ few.

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the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

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The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul