Amnesty International BookClub discussion

The Handmaid's Tale (The Handmaid's Tale, #1)
This topic is about The Handmaid's Tale
May 2015- The Handmaid's Tale

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message 1: by Amnesty (last edited May 13, 2015 11:36PM) (new) - added it

Amnesty Bookclub | 225 comments Mod
Before The Hunger Games and Divergent there was The Handmaid's Tale, a now modern classic dystopia by Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

Set in the near future after a Christian theocracy has overthrown the United States government, women's lives under the new regime are central to the book, although the new government treats women as chattels and essentially walking wombs.

For the complete discussion guide, including the action about a rights activist in Iran, see:

Again, we are fortunate to have questions supplied by author Gail Bowen, who selected this month's book, as well as other suggested points for discussion.

Gail Bowen asks:

1. In the opening paragraph of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s protagonist describes the gymnasium that houses the women being ‘re-educated’ by the totalitarian Christian theocracy that has overthrown the U.S. Government:
“Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made of tissue-paper flowers, cardboard devils, a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dances with a snow of light.”

The word “palimpsest” is defined as “a very old document from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text”. How does the concept of palimpsest, of the past informing the present, drive Atwood’s novel?

2. In Chapter Seven, Offred says, “The night is my own time, to do with as I will, as long as I am quiet.” How does Atwood use night and day to tell Offred’s story?

3. In Chapter Sixteen, Offred reflects on the effect The Ceremony has on two of its three main players: Offred and Serena Joy. She asks herself “Which of us is it worse for, her or me?” In ways large or small, everyone in Gilead seems to chafe at the restraints of the new system. What does that general resistance reveal about human nature?

4. The narrative of The Handmaid’s Tale ends with questions, not answers. Does this satisfy you? If not, why not?

5. Do the Historical Notes at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale add or detract from the novel as a whole?

Further discussion questions

1. The Handmaid’s Tale is a work of speculative fiction. In what ways does it reflect what is happening in the world today?

2. What do you think happens to Offred in the end?

3. The book starts with three quotes. How do they relate to the novel?

4. Moira is a character who refuses categorization. What does she symbolize?

message 2: by Val (last edited May 30, 2015 12:06AM) (new)

Val Patrick | 18 comments When we met in Vancouver we talked a lot about how the book made us think of past and current events: women all over the world, but also how quickly the rights were taken away from the women in Gilead- how similar is that to a realistic situation?

It made one of our book club members think of her time in Quebec in 1970 during the War Measures act- it was almost overnight that rights were taken away and people jailed.

message 3: by Amnesty (new) - added it

Amnesty Bookclub | 225 comments Mod
Whether you read the book or not, loved it or not, you can take letter writing action on the case on page 8 of the guide:

Bahareh Hedayat is a women's rights activist and prisoner of conscience in Iran. She is currently serving a ten year prison sentence for advocating for an end to gender discrimination.

There is also an online petition for her case:

Thank you very much everyone!

message 4: by Amnesty (last edited Jun 07, 2015 08:58PM) (new) - added it

Amnesty Bookclub | 225 comments Mod
Please feel free to join this webcast with Gail Bowen and Nino Ricci to discuss "The Handmaid's Tale"!

message 5: by Siddhi (new)

Siddhi (siddhijoshi) | 3 comments My question for the webcast was: Different kinds of freedom are discussed in the Handmaid's tale with a memorable quote from Aunt Lydia:

“There is more than one kind of freedom said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of the anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are given freedom from. Don’t underrate it” Chapter 5, ~Page. 24

What are the "freedom from" in the Gilead regime and the "Freedom to" in the time before.

The time before offered a dynamic freedom vs the more "static freedom" offered by Gilead regime. There is Freedom to- CHOOSE and Freedom from - CHOICE in Gilead. Discuss the concept of static freedom and the ways in which oppressive regimes can view there oppression as freedom. In what way does this quote discuss the underlying philosophy behind the Gilead regime and how oppression is viewed in this dystopian novel?

message 6: by Amnesty (new) - added it

Amnesty Bookclub | 225 comments Mod
Listen to an engaging podcast between Gail Bowen and Nino Ricchi about The Handmaid's Tale here:


Another webcast with author of "China Dog", Judy Fong Bates, takes place soon:

message 7: by Amnesty (last edited Feb 25, 2017 04:24PM) (new) - added it

Amnesty Bookclub | 225 comments Mod
This discussion thread is from two years ago, when author Gail Bowen selected Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale for the Amnesty International book club, stating, "The Handmaid’s Tale is an unsparing indictment of a community that regards females as chattels, but it is also a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit."

Now Atwood's 1985 novel is back on the bestseller list again with a new television adaptation coming soon and current events.

Have you read it? Re-read it? Are you planning to re-read it? Has it inspired you to read other dystopian works?

message 8: by Amnesty (new) - added it

Amnesty Bookclub | 225 comments Mod
There has been a lot of attention to the new television adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale. Have you seen it? What did you think? How did it compare to the book?

Here is one recent discussion from CBC's "Day 6", for example:


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