The Handmaid’s Tale

Updated May 1, 2021

Section 1: Night

  • "We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability?" (4).

Section 2: Shopping

  • "We aren't allowed to go [to town] except in twos. This is supposed to be for our protection, though the notion is absurd: we are well protected already. The truth is that she is my spy, as I am hers. If either of us slips through the net because of something that happens on one of our daily walks, the other will be accountable" (19).
  • "[Ofglen] may be a real believer, a Handmaid in more than name" (19).
  • "It's an event, a small defiance of rule, so small as to be undetectable, but such moments are the rewards I hold out for myself..." (21).
  • "Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles. There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from." (24).
  • "It's only the more recent history that offends them" (31).
  • "evidence from [one] woman is no longer admissable" (33).
  • "Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary" (33).

Section 3: Night

  • "I would like to believe this is a story I'm telling... If it's a story I'm telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off" (39).

Section 4: Waiting Room

  • "There are three new bodies on the Wall. One is a priest, still wearing the black cassock. That's been put on him, for the trial..." (43).
    • The hangings are performative, not for some kind of justice.
  • "In this house we all envy each other something" (47).
  • "Was [the Commander] invading? Was he in my room? I called it mine" (49).
  • "Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you'd be boiled to death before you knew it" (56).
  • "There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men. None of them were the men we knew" (56).
  • "It's the choice that terrifies me. A way out, a salvation" (61).
  • "I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it's shameful or immodest but because I don't want to see it. I don't want to look at something that determines me so completely" (63).

Section 5: Nap

  • "Each month I watch for blood, fearfully, for when it comes it means failure. I have failed once again to fulfill the expectations of others, which have become my own" (73).

Section 6: Household

  • "I would like to take some small thing... It would make me feel that I have power" (80-81).
  • "They only show us victories, never defeats. Who wants bad news?" (83).
  • "Which of us is it worse for, her or me?" (95)

Section 7: Night

  • "...nobody dies from lack of sex. It's lack of love we die from" (103).
  • "I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light" (105).

Section 8: Birth Day

This section is about a "Birth Day", in the sense that it's a day when a child is being born (Ofwarren aka Janine is having a child).

  • "I dress, not looking down" (110).
  • "What will Ofwarren give birth to? ... There's no telling. They could tell once, with machines, but that is now outlawed. What would be the point of knowing, anyway? You can't have them taken out; whatever it is must be carried to term" (112).
    • Even in a world so obsessed with conceiving a child, there are no abortions allowed.
  • "Some of [the Handmaids], why, they aren't even clean. And won't give you a smile, mope in their rooms, don't wash their hair, the smell. I have to get the Marthas to do it, almost have to hold her down in the bathtub..." (115).
    • It seems that the Handmaids' main purpose is conceiving children, and the cleaning or picking up groceries is secondary. Even if they don't perform these secondary duties, they're still kept around.
  • "...they massage her tiny belly, just as if she's really about to give birth herself" (116).
  • "The Commander, of course, is nowhere in sight... Probably he's figuring out when his promotion is likely to be announced, if all goes well. He's sure to get one, now" (116).
  • "She expected me to vindicate her life for her, and the choices she'd made. I didn't want to live my life on her terms. I didn't want to be the model offspring, the incarnation of her ideas. We used to fight about that. I am not your justification for existence, I said to her once" (122).
  • "Nevertheless we are jubilant, it's a victory, for all of us. We've done it" (127).
  • "After that she'll be transferred, to see if she can do it again, with someone else who needs a turn. But she'll never be sent to the Colonies, she'll never be declared Unwoman. That is her reward" (127).
  • "Moira was out there somewhere... Moira had power now, she'd been set loose, she'd set herself loose. She was now a loose woman... Moira was our fantasy" (133).
  • "Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn't really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing" (135).

Section 9: Night

  • "[Men] only want one thing. You must learn to manipulate them, for your own good" (144).

Section 10: Soul Scrolls

  • "So there it was, out in the open: his wife didn't understand him. That's what I was there for, then. The same old thing. It was too banal to be true" (158).
  • "Also: I now had power over [the Commander's wife], of a kind, although she didn't know it. And I enjoyed that. Why pretend? I enjoyed it a lot" (162).
  • "To him I'm no longer merely a usable body. To him I'm not just a boat with no cargo... To him I am not merely empty" (163).
  • "Ordering prayers from Soul Scrolls is supposed to be a sign of piety and faithfulness to the regime, so of course the Commanders' Wives do it a lot. It helps their husbands' careers" (167).
  • "What I feel is relief. It wasn't me" (170).
    • After watching the Eyes kidnap a man off the street.
  • "It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time" (174).
  • "There was a lot more music on the radio than usual, and fewer words" (175).
  • "The army was there [when I got fired], and everything. Then I remembered something I'd seen and hadn't noticed, at the time. It wasn't the army. It was some other army" (179).
  • "[Luke] doesn't mind this, I thought. He doesn't mind it at all. Maybe he even likes it. We are not each other's, anymore. Instead, I am his" (182).
    • Thought to Luke: "I couldn't afford to lose you" (182).
  • To the Commander: "You want my life to be bearable to me" (187).

Section 11: Night

  • "That is what you have to do before you kill, I thought. You have to create an it, where none was before. You do that first, in your head, and then you make it real" (193).
  • "It's my fault. I am forgetting too much" (193).

Section 12: Jezebel's

  • "I'd like to have Luke here, in this bedroom while I'm getting dressed, so I could have a fight with him. ...something daily and unimportant in the big scheme of things" (200).
  • "[Jews] were given a choice. They could convert, or emigrate to Israel" (200).
    • The main conflict in this book does seem to be religiously motivated.
  • "Ofglen says some other people got out that way by pretending to be Jewish" (201).
    • It seems that other people realized that the country was headed in a bad direction and wanted to get out too.
  • "I see those evergreen trees and geometric boys and girls in a different light: evidence of [Serena Joy's] stubbornness, and not altogether despicable" (203).
  • After Serena Joy brings up the idea of having Nick impregnate Offred and not telling the Commander: "This idea hangs between us, almost visible, almost palpable, heavy, formless, dark; collusion of a sort, betrayal of a sort. She does want that baby" (205).
  • The Commander talking about the current state of the world: "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs... Better never means better for everyone... It always means worse, for some" (211).
  • "But people will do anything rather than admit that their lives have no meaning. No use, that is. No plot" (215).
  • "From the point of view of future history, this kind, [Handmaids will] be invisible" (228).
  • "[The Commander] wishes to diminish things, myself included" (229).
  • "nobody gets out of [the club] except in a black van" (243).
  • "in those early days the Aunts and even the Center were hardly common knowledge. It was all secret at first, behind barbed wire" (245).
  • In the colonies are "old women... and Handmaids who've screwed up their three chances, and incorrigibles like me. Discards, all of us" (248).
  • "[Moira] is frightening me now, because what I hear in her voice is indifference, a lack of volition. Have they really done it to her then, taken away something — what? — that used to be so central to her?" (249).
    • "I don't want her to be like me. Give in, go along, save her skin." (249).
  • "I lie there like a dead bird" (255).

Section 13: Night

  • "I'm sad now, the way we're talking is infinitely sad: faded music, faded paper flowers, worn satin, an echo of an echo. All gone away, no longer possible" (262).
  • "And I thought afterwards: this is a betrayal. Not the thing itself but my own response. If I knew for certain he's dead, would that make a difference?" (263).
  • "I would like to be without shame. I would like to be shameless. I would like to be ignorant. Then I would not know how ignorant I was" (263).

Section 14: Salvaging

  • Breaks the fourth wall: "I am coming to a part you will not like at all, because in it I did not behave well, but I will try nonetheless to leave nothing out" (268).
  • "[Luke]'s fading. Day by day, night by night he recedes, and I become more faithless" (269).
  • "then placed my hand on my heart to show my unity with the Salvagers and my consent, and my complicity in the death of this woman" (276).
  • The Handmaids attack a former Guardian who has raped two women: "He has become an it" (280).
  • Of the former Ofglen: "She hanged herself... After the Salvaging. She saw the vans coming for her. It was better" (285).
  • "Everything they taught at the Red Center, everything I've resisted, comes flooding in. I don't want pain. I don't want to be a dancer, my feet in the air, my head a faceless oblong of white cloth" (286).

Section 15: Night

  • "Get it over, she says. I'm tired of this melodrama, I'm tired of keeping silent. There's no one you can protect, your life has value to no one. I want it finished" (293).
  • "[Serena Joy] wasn't the one who called [the Eyes], then. Whatever she had in store for me, it was more private" (294).
    • The answer: "Violation of state secrets" (294).
  • "Cora has begun to cry. I was her hope, I've failed her. Now she will always be childless" (295).
  • "I have given myself over into the hands of strangers, because it can't be helped. And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light" (295).