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The Connell Short Guide to
Margaret Atwood's
The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, a handmaid in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead. She is allowed to leave the home of the Commander and his wife only once a day to visit the market, whose signs are now pictures not words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray the Commander makes her pregnant because handmaids are valued only if able to have children. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale was first published more than 30 years ago, but, as David Isaacs shows in this concise, compelling guide, the issues it raises are as relevant now as they were when it was written.


  • Introduction
  • A summary of the plot
  • Is The Handmaid’s Tale a feminist novel?
  • Why does Puritanism feature in the novel?
  • What kind of novel is The Handmaid’s Tale?
  • What is the novel telling us about power?
  • How is the story told?
  • Why do flowers feature so much in The Handmaid’s Tale?
  • So why does Offred tell us about her life?
  • What do we make of Offred?

    Historical notes on The Handmaid’s Tale
    Five Facts about The Handmaid’s Tale
    Further reading