The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Foreshadowing

The Handmaid’s Tale includes very little specific foreshadowing. However, two powerful forces—the totalitarian politics of Gilead and the irrepressible force of human desire—shape Offred’s story, and as these forces increase, Atwood foreshadows their consequences.

Ofglen’s suicide

Ofglen’s suicide by hanging is foreshadowed three ways: in Offred’s own habitual thoughts of suicide; in the information that Offred’s predecessor hanged herself, and in the hanged bodies displayed on the Wall. Because Ofglen chooses to kill herself rather than undergo torture by the Eyes, the constant threat posed by the Eyes also foreshadows Ofglen’s decision. Ofglen is the novel’s most active rebel: by foreshadowing her suicide, the novel suggests that the rebels’ efforts are doomed.

Offred’s relationship with Nick

Offred’s sexual relationship with Nick is foreshadowed from their first encounter. Her attraction to him is suggested by the way she describes him: “caress[ing]” the Commander’s car, “showing his forearms, tanned but with a stipple of dark hairs” (Chapter 4). Our sense of Offred and Nick’s mutual attraction deepens every time they interact. By foreshadowing their relationship, The Handmaid’s Tale suggests that sexual desire is a force equal to even the greatest political repression.

Serena Joy’s plan for Offred

Serena Joy’s suggestion that Offred have sex with Nick is foreshadowed by several earlier incidents. The doctor who performs Offred’s check-up makes the same arguments as Serena Joy: the Commander might be sterile, and Offred’s future depends on her becoming pregnant. At the birth ceremony, we learn that the Wives are jealous and competitive about whether their Handmaids produce children. This foreshadowing points to another powerful desire which shapes Gilead: the desire to raise children.