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The Handmaid’s tale. Margaret Atwood: The Author. born in Ottawa in 1939 brilliant student at the University of Toronto her poetry first drew her to public attention. The Edible Woman in 1969

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Margaret Atwood: The Author

  • born in Ottawa in 1939
  • brilliant student at the University of Toronto
  • her poetry first drew her to public attention
  • The Edible Woman in 1969
    • Initially, Atwood was seem as a radical feminist: “but as Atwood continued to produce novels and short stories, a much more complicated pattern emerged. Her men continued to be weak and petulant, but the true villains of her fiction turned out to be female” (Toronto Star, Nov. 8 2000).

Companions of the Order of Canada Gallery


Atwood's fiction is often symbolic. She has moved easily between satire and fantasy, and enlarged the boundaries of traditional realism.

“What inspired The Handmaid’s Tale?”

I’ve often been asked. General observation, I might have said. Poking my nose into books. Reading the newspapers. World history. One of my rules was that I couldn’t put anything into the novel that human beings hadn’t actually done.


I began the actual writing in West Berlin, in the spring of 1984. In five years the Wall would topple and the Soviet Union would disintegrate, but I had no way of knowing that. I visited East Berlin at the time, as well as Poland and Czechoslovakia. I’d followed events in Romania—where women were forced by the ruling regime to have babies—and also in China, where they were forced not to. I’d been to Iran, and traced the advent of the repression of women under the Ayatollahs.

dystopian literature
Dystopian Literature
  • Dystopian literature : fictional worlds or societies that are depicted as utopias, but under closer scrutiny illustrate terrifying and restrictive regimes in which individual freedoms are often suppressed for the greater “good”.

Dystopias are a kind of thought experiment which isolates certain social trends and exaggerates them to make clear their most negative qualities. They are rarely intended as realistic predictions of a probable future, and it is pointless to criticize them on the grounds of implausibility. Atwood here examines some of the traditional attitudes that are embedded in the thinking of the religious right and which she finds particularly threatening.

the big i dea
The Big Idea
  • Gilead, depicts a society in which religious extremists have taken over and reversed the progress of the sexual revolution.
  • The novel is a dystopian vision of a future in which Christian fundamentalists have executed the President, machine-gunned the Congress (blaming the assassinations on Muslim fanatics), suspended the constitution, and created a new social order in which women are, at best, commodities.
more on the dystopian novel
More on the Dystopian novel
  • Part of the nightmare of the Dystopian novel is the pattern of creating impressions which are more or less familiar, and then undercutting them in some way, thereby creating dis-ease in the reader.
inspiration for the novel
Inspiration for the novel?
  • Atwood describes the impetus of the novel as her steadily increasing perturbation at American’s insistence that “it can’t happen here.” (an outraged response to the myth of American exceptionalism)
  • She uses Puritan New England as the model for well-meaning ideals turning into nightmares (the dream vs. the reality)
  • At its core, THT is a novel of ideas, a narrative exploration of questions about power and powerlessness that preoccupy much of Atwood’s fiction.

1st impressions and genre

Timeline & text structure





Narrative Issues and Palimpsests

The role & function of language