With its 1985 publication,

Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale, introduced the public to the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian Christian state that has recently replaced the United States of America. Here, women's only purpose is to serve men emotionally and sexually. Women are divided by social class and allowed only to wear color-coded robes. The names of their social categories mimic Biblical texts: Wives, Marthas, Aunts, Jezebels...and Handmaids.

The reproductive health of most women has been sabotaged by the environmental destruction of Gilead. The few remaining fertile women, who live as concubines to their heads of household--"Commanders"--are known as Handmaids. Handmaids have no known names except patronymic "Of[name]": the novel's narrator serves a Commander named Fred, so her only known name is Offred. Fertilization is attempted in a bizarre, monthly copulation ceremony between the Commander, his Wife and his Handmaid. If, after placement in three households, a Handmaid fails to conceive a child, she is declared an Unwoman and sent to Gilead's colonies to work in nuclear waste.

The Handmaid's Tale conceptualizes a civilization run by a minority, and the reactions of the oppressed majority. To learn more about this chilling dystopia, click on the links above.

      This website was created by Sarah Chamberlain for Dr. Arthur Evans's Science Fiction seminar, part of the Honor Scholar Program at DePauw University. November 2007.