The Handmaid’s Tale


Here are some sample essay topics. Bear these in mind as you read the book.

Handmaid’s Tale Essay Topics

Introductory Tasks

Task 1

Atwood is a poet as well as a successful novelist. Before you read the book, do some research work on the time in which Atwood was writing. Of special interest (and specifically mentioned in the Epilogue) are the governmental regime in Iran in the 1980’s (and indeed now, as it hasn’t changed!), Romanian policy under President Ceaucescu regarding the birthrate in Romania, and the influence of the American right-wing Christian community on politics (again, this is just as true now as it was in the 1980’s).

You will research these as follows:

  • Romania in the 1980’s (Ceaucescu’s birth control policies, the reasons for them and the effects)
  • The USA both in the 1980’s and now, and the power and influence of the Christian right-wing on US politics

These short, informal presentations are for the exchange of information only; they are not assessed. Watch Veracross for dates.

You will need a clear understanding of these issues as we will have a class discussion to go into them in more detail.


Task 2

Look at the two images below. What are they saying? And how is it relevant to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? We will discuss these in class.

Task 3

Atwood has written and conducted interviews several times about ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Below are two articles she has written. It is very useful to read these as, although you are not expected to refer to a writer’s own opinions in any discussion or essay, it is useful to understand how the writer’s mind was working as the idea germinated and the book took shape.

‘Orwell and Me’ by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Here is a list of characters to use as you read the book.

Handmaid’s Tale Character List

This ‘family tree’ of the Christian religion may help to explain some of the factions that are fighting each other throughout the book, in the constant war that is reminiscent of Orwell’s ‘1984’ (download to view).


Reading Tasks

As you read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ you will notice the hierarchy prevalent in society. Use the worksheet below to save comments on this as you go through the book.

Handmaid’s Tale Hierarchy Worksheet

What are the themes of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? In class we will work on the document below. Print it out so that you have a paper copy for your file for that lesson.

Handmaid’s Tale Features

To help, here is a summary of themes in the book.

Handmaid’s Tale Symbolism & Language

Assessed Tasks

Task 1: Written Task

What happened to Offred? Did she escape? Was she caught? Why did she leave those tapes behind? Complete the last, lost extract from Offred’s diary.

Before you do this, remember all we have said about Offred’s story-telling style. Try to imitate this as closely as you can.

You may either write this, or record it.

Watch Veracross for dates.


Task 2: Essay

These are the final essay topics on this novel. Choose one of the two topics below.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has been referred to as ‘a dire warning’. What elements of our own society is Margaret Atwood warning us about, and how does her warning work?

‘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.’ (p23). Examine the quality of life in Gilead for women in the light of Aunt Lydia’s statement.

Watch Veracross for dates.