The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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25 ‘She’s a flag on a hilltop, showing us what can still be done: we too can be saved.’ – Another reference to the regime’s distorted use of 1Timothy, 2:15: ‘Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.’ The text in reality means that women should feel free to marry and bear children, rather than be expected to live a celibate live. A wife and husband with a family can expect to be saved if they (that is ‘wife, husband and children’) live a life of faith, love and holiness. The regime literally ‘saves’ handmaids who have given birth, by promising not to send them to their deaths in the Colonies. The reference to ‘a flag on a hilltop’ may be intended to suggest the famous Second World War photograph ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’.

26 ‘All children are wanted now, but not by everyone.’ – Some women are so jealous of those lucky enough to be pregnant that there have apparently been attempts on their lives. The whole issue of whether children are ‘wanted’ or not was, in the 1980s as well as now, frequently raised in the pro- and anti-abortion debate.

26 ‘we hush like schoolgirls’ – Offred notes once more the Handmaids’ tendency to regressive behaviour.

27 ‘endless white plastic shopping bags’ – emblematic of the waste of precious resources in the pre-Gilead period.

27 ‘She could get one of those over her head.’ – First indication in the text that Offred and Luke had a child together. This fact provides one reason why Offred is now a Handmaid: she is known to be fertile.

27 ‘We have come outside then’ – Offred’s activities are so monotonous that she frequently appears to run on ‘auto-pilot’ and is not fully aware of where she is.

27 ‘nearly naked in their thin stockings’ – Normal women’s dress in Westernised countries has become shocking to Offred. This fact indicates the powerful effect of societal norms and pressures, and can either be taken as a criticism of Gilead, where people have ‘grown used’ to women being covered head to toe, or as a criticism of our own society where people have ‘grown’ equally ‘used’ to women wearing revealing, and even sexually provocative, garments in public.

27 ‘They wear lipstick, red, outlining the damp cavities of their mouths, like scrawls on a washroom wall, of the time before.’ – Again, this is not a ‘normal’ reaction to lipstick, which many people would take for granted as simply one aspect of being smartly dressed. Offred sees the tourist’s mouths, however, as almost grossly yonic; she compares here the ‘red outline’ made by the lipstick to a scrawled graffito of a vagina on the wall of a public toilet.

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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