The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

4957a45894287bca5e84c2e1cab067d6Information: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was published in 1985 by Anchor Books. ISBN: 038549081X

Plot Summary: The Handmaid’s Tale is a story of a dystopian future where women are stripped of their rights. They have no freedoms and most do little more than caring for the men of the society and procreating. The story centers around Offred, who is a Handmaiden to a local Commander. Offred struggles to remember her life before the change to the Republic of Gilead. She had a job, a husband, and a child, but she can barely remember their faces, let alone most of the life they had together. But as Offred continuously fails to produce another heir for the Commander, Offred discovers there might be an opportunity to escape this new terrible life.  

Critical Evaluation: The Handmaid’s Tale is a terrifying depiction of a dystopian world, where women have lost all their freedoms and their right to be treated like humans. Atwood’s story serves as a warning look into the future, if women and others do not fight and continue to stand up for their freedoms. The Handmaid’s Tale shows how important our memories and sense of self is tied to our names and how even if we are stripped of everything, we cannot give in.

Reader’s Annotation: After women have all their freedoms and humanity stripped from them and are forced to serve the male leaders of their communities, one woman hangs onto the memory of her family, with the hope she can find them again.

Author’s Information: Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, and grew up in northern Ontario and Quebec, and in Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her latest book of short stories is Stone Mattress: Nine Tales (2014).  Her MaddAddam trilogy – the Giller and Booker prize-nominated Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009), and MaddAddam (2013) – is currently being adapted for HBO. The Door is her latest volume of poetry (2007). Her most recent non-fiction books are Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (2008) and In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011). Her novels include The Blind Assassin, winner of the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; and The Robber Bride, Cat’s Eye, The Handmaid’s Tale – coming soon as a TV series with MGM and Hulu – and The Penelopiad. Her new novel, The Heart Goes Last, was published in September 2015. Forthcoming in 2016 are Hag-Seed, a novel revisitation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, for the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, and Angel Catbird – with a cat-bird superhero – a graphic novel with co-creator Johnnie Christmas. (Dark Horse.) Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson (Margaret Atwood).

Genre: Adult Fiction Crossover, Dystopian, Feminism, Classic

Curriculum Ties: (Florida State Curriculum Standards): Understanding Key Literary Ideas

Book Talk Ideas:

  1. Why do you think women are not allowed to read? Does reading hold that kinds of power for us today?
  2. What do you think happened to the narrator? Do you think it’s possible to escape that kind of society?

Reading Level/ Age Interest: Grades 10-12 and Ages 16-18

Challenge Issues: Sexual Content, Violence, Language

Challenge Defense File:

Selection Policy

The System will select and maintain a comprehensive collection of print, non-print, audio visual and electronically accessed materials to meet the informational, educational, and recreational needs of the citizens of Sarasota County. The System will strive to offer wide ranging collections that meet the various ages, interests, educational levels, and cultural backgrounds of all members of the community and will provide collections through which an individual may explore all points of view and issues of interest. In making selections, the library staff will do so based upon principle rather than personal opinion, reason rather than prejudice, and judgment rather than censorship. Furthermore, staff will be responsive to public demand for materials of contemporary significance and interest, while balancing this with the need to collect and preserve materials of permanent value. While library staff makes material selections based upon the tenet of one system, one collection, selectors recognize the distinct characteristics and needs of the populace that each library services. Community profiles are used to guide selectors in efforts to develop special collections and to meet the unique patron needs within each library.

The ultimate responsibility for selection materials rests with the General Manager of Libraries and the Management Team, who in turn delegates selection responsibilities to the Collection Development Librarians (Sarasota County Policy).  


Atwood, M. (1985). The Handmaid’s Tale. New York, New York: Anchor Books.

The Handmaid’s Tale offers readers an inside look at what their freedoms really mean and what life could be like without them. The story reinforces how important it is to vocalize political opinions before rights are taken away. The novel also shows that even in the worst situations, one can never give up hope that you can fight back.

Other recommendations like this book include: Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, and The Women’s Room by Marilyn French.

Active Listening Skills

  • Remain calm
  • Listen thoughtfully and carefully to any arguments for the collection
  • Engage in a discussion that considers every concern, even if you do not agree


  • Man Booker Prize Nominee (1986)
  • Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1986)
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (1986)
  • Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (1987)

Reconsideration Form


Selection Tools:

Why I chose this book: I chose this book for its powerful interpretation of what it looks like to lose all freedoms. I find this book incredibly important in such turbulent political times, to serve as a warning of what the world could look like if we stop standing up for what’s right.


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