10 Powerful Quotes: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (2022)

In the novel, readers are exposed to her skill creation of imagery, her ability to craft realistic and terrifying scenes of a dystopian future, and her skill with language. The ten quotes on this list represent a small number of the most powerful passages in The Handmaid’s Tale.

10 Powerful Quotes: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1)

Love

The stains on the mattress. Like dried flower petals. Not recent. Old love; there’s no other kind of love in this room now. When I saw that, the evidence left by two people, of love or something like it, desire at least, at least touch, between two people now perhaps old or dead, I covered the bed again and lay down on it.

In these beautiful lines, Offred is describing stains on her bed and the sorrow she feels over this expression of love. She believes that she will never experience that kind of love again, especially not in that bed.

The Past

When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.

In this moving quote about the past, Offred is lost in her own thoughts, one of the only places she has any freedom. There, she spends time considering what was and what is. She is well aware that the past isn’t always what it seems to be as time passes and memories of hardships are lighted. She isn’t only thinking about her personal past though, she’s also considering the landmarks around her. What the buildings are now and what they used to be when the United States of America was a complete country. She also considers the things that used to occupy everyone’s time.

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.

These lines come from the end of Chapter 6 when Offred and Ofglen are looking at the Wall, where “traitors” are hung. There, they can see those executed by Gilead. She tries to put aside her horror at the sight and blank out any of her emotions. It is at this point that she recalls what Aunt Lydia told her, that the extraordinary will become ordinary over time. Gilead, like other fictional and real-life totalitarian societies, succeeds when people get used to its practices. As soon as people forget what a different world would be like, Gilead wins.

(Video) Top Five Quotes From The Handmaid's Tale

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

The phrase “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” was carved on the inside of Offred’s closet by the previous resident of the room, some other handmaid. These words bring Offred equal parts joy and sorrow. She feels a deep connection to the woman who was there before her but also a sorrow over this woman’s fate and her own. It is translated into “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” a reference to an old Latin joke.

Storytelling and Words

I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, andreal life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.

In these lines of The Handmaid’s Tale, readers are reminded of the fact that Offred is experiencing the horrors of Gilead in real-time. She is there, in real-time, living the words that readers see on the page. This connects her deeply to the story in a way that is more moving and real than it would be if she was telling the story from a distance. She looks to the future, hoping that sometime, somewhere, things will get better, and “real life” will return. There, she can “pick up where [she] left off”.

I sit in the chair and think about the word chair. It can also mean the leader of a meeting. It can also mean a mode of execution. It is the first syllable in charity. It is the French word for flesh. None of these facts has any connection with the others. These are the kinds of litanies I use, to compose myself.

Here, offred is thinking about the power of words, their various meanings, and how things change depending on context. This is one example of Offred’s rebellion against Gilead as she relishes words, even though she’s not allowed to read them. She’s reminded of who she used to be before Gilead.

Imprisonment in The Handmaid’s Tale

Now and again we vary the route; there’s nothing against it, as long as we stay within the barriers. A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.

(Video) Top 20 Margaret Atwood Quotes (Author of The Handmaid's Tale)

These lines in The Handmaid’s Tale are part of Offred’s narration in regards to the freedom, or lack thereof that the Handmaids have as they move through their very specific “maze”. She was inspired to think these words while considering the different ways to and from the shops that OFfred and Ofglen sometimes take. They are allowed to take different routes through the maze, but they aren’t allowed beyond the walls of the city. Their prison is a very specialized one.

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. Don’t underrate it.

These lines are spoken by Aunt Lydia, the woman in charge of reeducating Offred and the other Handmaid’s at the Red Center. Lydia is a believer, she is, by all accounts in The Handmaid’s Tale, 100% committed to the Gilead and its principles. Here, she speaks broadly about freedom but is specifically referring to the freedom that these women no longer have as Handmaids. It’s a perfect example of Orwellian doublethink in which something that is inherently bad is described as being inherently good. She suggests that its a benefit for these women to be free “from” free choice.

The Creation of Gilead

The problem wasn’t only with the women, he says. The main problem was with the men. There was nothing for them anymore . . . I’m not talking about sex, he says. That was part of it, the sex was too easy.. . You know what they were complaining about the most? Inability to feel. Men were turning off on sex, even. They were turning off on marriage. Do they feel now? I say. Yes, he says, looking at me. Theydo.

This quote is spoken by the Commander towards the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, in Chapter 32. Here, he is trying to explain to Offred why and how Gilead was founded. He speaks ambiguously as he is trying to hide something, or alternatively, as if he can’t quite put into words what he wants to say. It is perhaps hard, even for him, to justify the steps they have taken. He tries to convince offred that feminism took something away from men—they were no longer the protectors that they wanted to be.

Identity

When I’m naked I lie down on the examining table, on the sheet of chilly crackling disposable paper. I pull the second sheet, the cloth one, up over my body. At neck level there’s another sheet, suspended from the ceiling. It intersects me so the doctor will never see my face. He deals with a torso only.

Here, Margaret Atwood is at her best describing through mundane details the complete removal of identity that all Handmaids have gone through. The sheet divides Offred in half. There is her mind and there is her body. In Gilead’s eyes, her body is the main focus with her mind only a secondary annoyance. Her identity as a full person has been compromised.

(Video) Important 'The Handmaid's Tale' Quotes By Margaret Atwood

FAQs

How do Handmaids greet each other?

Handmaids greet one another by saying “Blessed be the fruit.” It is a way of restricting the ways the women communicate and ensuring that God and the will of the Commanders is always present.

What does “Blessed be the fruit” mean?

It is a form of greeting between people in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It is used as a way of acknowledging the importance of fertility among women.

What is the quote about what handmaids wear?

Atwood writes in regard to what the women wear, from Offred’s perspective: “Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us.”

(Video) 10 Most Famous Quotes from Aunt Lydia | Life-Changing Quotes

What is “Under his eye” from the Bible?

“Under his eye” is used in The Handmaid’s Tale as a way of saying goodbye. It suggests that someone, God or a Commander, is always watching and making sure that “you” do the right thing.

Why do they cut women’s eyes in The Handmaid’s Tale?

This is a practice that is described in the television series based on the novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. It occurs to one of the main characters who acts out. It is a way of punishment. It also marks her as different.

10 Powerful Quotes: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (2)

FAQs

What is the most important quote in the handmaids tale? ›

Better never means better for everyone... It always means worse, for some.

What's the saying from Handmaids Tale? ›

Blessed be the fruit”: the typical greeting to a Handmaid in Gilead. The phrase also has Biblical ties to encouraging fertility.

What are four of the key idiomatic phrases used by the handmaids? ›

Handmaid's Tale sayings and their meanings:
  • "Under His Eye" Used as "hello" or "goodbye," with the connotation that Gilead's chosen god is always watching.
  • "Blessed Be the Fruit" ...
  • "May the Lord Open" ...
  • "Praise Be" ...
  • "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" ...
  • "We've Been Sent Good Weather"
13 Sept 2022

What do the handmaids wear quote? ›

I pick them up, pull them onto my hands, finger by finger. Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us. Handmaids wear clothing made almost entirely of red (except for the white wings extending from their wimple).

What is the last line of The Handmaid's Tale? ›

The last line of The Handmaid's Tale—“Are there any questions?”—hints at the deliberate ambiguity of her stories. Everything I was trying to get her to do—explain characters she created, or events she invented for them—seemed to be everything she was most politely but ardently opposed to doing.

What is the first line of The Handmaid's Tale? ›

“the Handmaid's Tale” By Margaret Atwood

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.” Though the first line of Margaret Atwood's dystopia is simple, there's an undeniably ominous tone, and it raises many more questions than it answers—an ideal start to a terrifying, mind-bending book.

Why are there no quotes in the Handmaids Tale? ›

The lack of quotation marks is for depicting personal thoughts and feelings, as well as dialog as it appears in her memory. This would fit well with one of the book's underlying themes of gaslighting. Memory is unreliable, and is in the eye of the beholder.

Is Handmaids based on a true story? ›

The Handmaid's Tale is NOT based on a true story. The drama is science fiction, set in a dystopian future where a totalitarian regime has overthrown the US government and created the Republic of Gilead. But the show, based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel of the same name, is inspired by religious and political history.

What does Offred's Pillow say? ›

To maintain the stability of self, the first person singular of her own narrative, Offred needs faith – the word mysteriously inscribed upon the pillow in her room – faith in the second person of a distant reader ; as she says later in the story, “I tell, therefore you are” (268).

What does 3 bells mean in Handmaid's Tale? ›

Three bells, that is a death knell in The Handmaid's Tale (Channel 4). There is to be an execution today, or a “salvaging”, as they call it in Gilead. The handmaids gather in the snow, and kneel when instructed to by Aunt Lydia (so good by Ann Dowd).

What did June bite off Fred? ›

June also makes sure to bite off Fred's tongue, which speaks to their own relationship - the finale shows them in flashbacks at Jezebel's, and his sleazy behavior (which includes biting her neck and ear), that she has to resist biting back at.

Why do they say under his eye? ›

“Under His eye”: How Handmaids formally say goodbye to each other in person. By extension, the phrase suggests that someone—a Guardian, a Commander, a fellow Handmaid, God—is always watching.

What do the handmaids say after under his eye? ›

May the Lord open”: The classic response to “blessed be the fruit.” Again, it suggests that they're praying for God to bring fertility to Handmaids. “Under His Eye”: Another Biblical reference, intended for saying hello or goodbye.

Why do Wives wear blue? ›

As another call to religion, the wives wear shades of blue as a reference to the Virgin Mary, emphasizing their purity regarding “their” children.

Why do Handmaids wear white wings? ›

The handmaids also wear white in the wings meant to cover their heads and shield them from the world.

What did JUNE say to Luke at the end? ›

As her final words of the season indicate when she tells husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle), “I'm sorry. Just give me five minutes with her [Nichole] and then I'll go,” she has potentially risked her freedom in order to further her war on the fascist regime of Gilead.

Why did Offred hang herself? ›

Because of the abuse she endured in Gilead and at the Waterford's house—and because of the affair she was forced into—the first Offred killed herself in her bedroom (June's bedroom).

Does The Handmaid's Tale quote the Bible? ›

The first episode of the series quoted a passage from the Bible that showed how and why Jacob and Rachel were so central to the ideology of Gilead.

What is the prayer from the Handmaids Tale? ›

The Handmaid's Tale, S03E13 "Mayday" "For food in world where many walk in hunger. For faith in world where many walk in fear. For my family in a world where many walk alone. We give thanks Lord, amen."

Why did Offred cut ear? ›

Not only does June cut her hair, she also cuts her ear — multiple times — in order to remove the tracking device that was implanted so many years ago.

What are the 3 epigraphs in the Handmaids Tale? ›

Atwood conjoins the three epigraphs by drawing on a controlling metaphor: the images of produce, food, and eating, which create a motif of fulfillment.

Does Margaret Atwood use quotations? ›

Margaret Atwood is good at no quotations marks.

Why are Handmaids forced to wear red? ›

To symbolise fertility

The Handmaids wear red dresses and red capes, which they must wear in public. Wearing red indicates the Handmaids' fertility, symbolising their primary role which is to produce a child. Only those women who are fertile wear red.

What are the symbols in the Handmaids Tale? ›

The symbols used in the Handmaid's Tale are Costumes, eyes, red colour, mirror, flower, Cambridge Massachusetts, scrabbles, Harvard University and Palimpsest (mary, 1986). Costumes: In the state of Gilead, people of same social group dress alike.

Did the Bible have handmaids? ›

Depictions in Abrahamic texts

In the King James translation of the Hebrew Bible, the term handmaid is applied to a female servant who serves her mistress, as in the case of Hagar being described as Sarai's handmaid, Zilpah being Leah's handmaid and Bilhah as Rachel's handmaid.

Why is June a handmaid and not an Econowife? ›

But the consensus seems to be that handmaids differ from econowives because they committed some kind of sin in Gilead's eyes. "Speaking within the confines of the show ... econowives can be fertile or infertile," wrote Reddit user Tary_n.

What religion is Handmaid's based on? ›

Religion--especially elements of the Christian faith--pervades every inch of the world as Atwood imagines it. Gilead's leaders use perverse forms of Christianity to sustain their authority and privilege, making understanding religion an integral part of understanding Gilead.

Why did Offred brush her teeth? ›

Upstairs, Offred is disgusted and upset with herself for thinking she could outsmart the Commander — she brushes her teeth until they bleed to remove his taste from her mouth.

Does Commander Lawrence sleep with June? ›

So, June and Commander Lawrence had to actually have sex, which thoroughly (and rightfully) upset Eleanor. As the situation in Gilead grew more dire, June became inspired to try to save as many children from an ill-fated life.

What did Nick say to Offred? ›

We only wanted to make the world better,” he says, as Offred looks like she's going to puke right there on the floor. “Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.”

Does June get her mouth sewn shut? ›

At first she can't understand why the Handmaid is not replying to her before she sees that her mouth has been forced shut with metal rings. The episode is a particularly interesting one for June, who is forced to also have her mouth covered when she travels to Washington D.C. by Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd).

Who did Serena Joy sleep with? ›

Because of this, it was always hinted that Serena could possibly conceive a child while her husband Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) was sterile. Fred admits to Serena in season 3 episode 11 of The Handmaid's Tale that he knows he is the reason the two cannot have a baby, and the two sleep together.

Why did June say give me 5 minutes? ›

Rather than needing five minutes before she faces the authorities, five minutes before she goes on the run, or five minutes before her and Luke's marriage is over, Miller says that final moment was June wanting to remember her past self.

Who sent Serena Freds finger? ›

June also confesses to Luke that she sent Serena Fred's severed finger. Luke's upset by her obsession and the potential danger her actions could invite. He strongly suggests she move on and focus on her family. The two soon make up, and hit the town for a fancy date night.

Why does Fred Call Nick son? ›

With this in mind, Fred's use of "son" may have been just another way to emotionally manipulate Nick. He may have been trying to keep Nick on his side and make him feel as if there was still a close bond between them both. However, with Nick and June bound together by love, he would have always taken her side.

Who impregnated Serena Joy in The Handmaid's Tale? ›

But Fred is the father.” Fans of the show will have to wait until season five to see how the rest of Serena's pregnancy will go, especially when she finds out that Fred has been killed.

Is Nick really an eye? ›

Nick was a driver for the Waterfords and an 'eye' for Gilead

Nick's main job throughout season 1 was a driver to his Commander, Fred Waterford, and Serena Joy. As a driver, he helped out around the house. However, he also had a secret job as an “eye” for Gilead.

Can a Handmaid become a wife? ›

They might actually become Wives if they stay on a track of loyalty.” The youngest members of Gilead, such as June's daughter, will eventually become Econowives or Wives, so long as they remain fertile and faithful. They'll be married off to working-class men at the young age of 14 or 15.

Why are the Marthas called Marthas? ›

The name "Martha" comes from the bible, after one of Jesus' friends who is a pragmatic and focused on domestic concerns; hence the Marthas' role as housekeepers in Gilead.

What did Emily give the wife? ›

While working in the fields, Emily talks to Mrs. O'Conner and offers her some advice. She gives her some antibiotics to prevent her from getting sick and when Mrs. O'Conner asks why she's helping her, Emily says that her "mistress was kind" to her once.

Why do handmaids have tattoos on their ankles? ›

Answer and Explanation: The suggested association of Offred's ankle tattoo is that of a serial or ID number. The implication of such a number is that Offred and all the handmaids are property.

Why do they say blessed be the fruit? ›

Blessed Be The Fruit: This is essentially 'hello' in Gilead speak, and it's usually met with the response “May The Lord Open” (see below). Alongside being a greeting, it's also meant to encourage fertility – aka, that a Handmaid will be 'blessed' with the 'fruit' of a child.

Why do the Marthas wear gray? ›

Red is for the handmaids. Blue is for the lawful (and upperclass) wives. In the book, the "econowives" wore striped dresses...and brown is for the aunts. The grey, (Or gray) uniforms of the Aunts (And the style) is also very reminiscent of the uniforms worn by female concentration camp guards during the Third Reich.

Why can't the Wives have babies in Handmaid's Tale? ›

In The Handmaid's Tale, infertility is linked to another one of Gilead's prominent problems: pollution. As revealed in the season 1 episode "A Woman's Place," inorganic farming and radioactivity are to blame for declining fertility.

How are the handmaids chosen? ›

In Gilead, Handmaids are fertile women, who are supposed to be impregnated by Commanders or Angels whose Wives are infertile, thus providing them with children. Only high ranking men - such as Commanders - are allowed to have a Handmaid assigned to them.

Why does JUNE cut her ear? ›

Free from her captors, she sheds her red robes and proceeds to cut part of her ear to remove the signifying tag. June goes to extreme lengths to get rid of the cuff. And as described by showrunner Bruce Miller, it signifies her separation from Offred.

What do the Handmaids wear quote? ›

I pick them up, pull them onto my hands, finger by finger. Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us. Handmaids wear clothing made almost entirely of red (except for the white wings extending from their wimple).

Why do the Wives wear green in handmaids? ›

Crabtree said that the brownish green of the aunts' clothes is meant to convey a militaristic degree of authority, calling back to the military uniforms of World War I, while the dull, pale green of the Marthas is meant to evoke a sense that these women are "wither[ing] into their environment."

Why are there no quotations in The Handmaid's Tale? ›

The lack of quotation marks is for depicting personal thoughts and feelings, as well as dialog as it appears in her memory. This would fit well with one of the book's underlying themes of gaslighting. Memory is unreliable, and is in the eye of the beholder.

What is the message offered to the readers in The Handmaid's Tale? ›

The Handmaid's Tale argues that legally controlling women's reproductive freedom is morally and politically wrong. The suffering of Offred and the other Handmaids is directly caused by the Gileadean state's desire to own and control women's fertility.

What do the handmaids say after under his eye? ›

May the Lord open”: The classic response to “blessed be the fruit.” Again, it suggests that they're praying for God to bring fertility to Handmaids. “Under His Eye”: Another Biblical reference, intended for saying hello or goodbye.

Does The Handmaid's Tale quote the Bible? ›

The first episode of the series quoted a passage from the Bible that showed how and why Jacob and Rachel were so central to the ideology of Gilead.

Does Margaret Atwood use quotations? ›

Margaret Atwood is good at no quotations marks.

What are the symbols in the Handmaids Tale? ›

The symbols used in the Handmaid's Tale are Costumes, eyes, red colour, mirror, flower, Cambridge Massachusetts, scrabbles, Harvard University and Palimpsest (mary, 1986). Costumes: In the state of Gilead, people of same social group dress alike.

What are the 3 epigraphs in the Handmaids Tale? ›

Atwood conjoins the three epigraphs by drawing on a controlling metaphor: the images of produce, food, and eating, which create a motif of fulfillment.

What is the most important lesson to learn from The Handmaid's Tale? ›

If you stay quiet, you lose your voice. Offred is a reflective character, showing us her regrets. She repeatedly focuses on the idea that when they spoke out, it was too late. It's a lesson for us all that if you are being treated unfairly, you have to speak up or risk being forever silenced.

What do flowers symbolize in The Handmaid's Tale? ›

Flowers are considered symbols of beauty or fertility. In The Handmaid's Tale they're given special attention as objects that can bloom and grow at a time when few women can. The bleeding heart flower from Serenas garden represents undying love.

What does the Handmaid's Tale teach us about society? ›

The story, set in a dystopian version of our not-so-distant future, underscores the importance of granting all people in society equal access to economic freedom and other human rights.

Is Nick really an eye? ›

Nick was a driver for the Waterfords and an 'eye' for Gilead

Nick's main job throughout season 1 was a driver to his Commander, Fred Waterford, and Serena Joy. As a driver, he helped out around the house. However, he also had a secret job as an “eye” for Gilead.

Why do handmaids cover their mouths? ›

The positioning of the mouth guards is because the mouth and face is one of the most emotional parts of the face. She added: “For example when you look at someone and you see they're angry, what's the thing that happens? Their nostrils flare. So that's why it's just the mouth covered.”

What does Offred's Pillow say? ›

To maintain the stability of self, the first person singular of her own narrative, Offred needs faith – the word mysteriously inscribed upon the pillow in her room – faith in the second person of a distant reader ; as she says later in the story, “I tell, therefore you are” (268).

Is Handmaid's Tale anti religion? ›

Subsequently, Atwood answered the question of whether the book is antireligious in plain terms. “So the book is not 'antireligion,'” she said. “It is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny; which is a different thing altogether.”

What religion is based in Handmaid's Tale? ›

In the handmaid's tale, The republic of Gilead is a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, meaning there is no separation between the state and religion. Gilead is built on the biblical idea that men are more important than women.

What verse is Handmaid's Tale based on? ›

This is an allusion to a verse from the Old Testament (Genesis 30:1), referencing Rachel's words to Jacob when she was unable to become pregnant. In the biblical context, Rachel is telling Jacob that he should get her maid pregnant and then Rachel will claim the child as her own.

Videos

1. Powerful quotes by Margaret Atwood
(TOI Books)
2. The Handmaid's Tale Quotes
(Best Quotes)
3. Powerful Quotes By Margaret Atwood That Will Enlighten You - margaret eleanor atwood
(Words of Wisdom)
4. The Best "The Handmaid'S Tale" Quotes 💯
(Topium)
5. Top 10 Most Intense The Handmaid's Tale Moments
(MsMojo)
6. Margaret Atwood Quotes you need to know before 40 | Inspirational quotes|
(Daily Inspiration)

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Chrissy Homenick

Last Updated: 09/21/2022

Views: 5333

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Chrissy Homenick

Birthday: 2001-10-22

Address: 611 Kuhn Oval, Feltonbury, NY 02783-3818

Phone: +96619177651654

Job: Mining Representative

Hobby: amateur radio, Sculling, Knife making, Gardening, Watching movies, Gunsmithing, Video gaming

Introduction: My name is Chrissy Homenick, I am a tender, funny, determined, tender, glorious, fancy, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.