The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Style

The style of The Handmaid’s Tale is introspective and nonlinear, weaving together narratives from Offred’s past and present. Throughout the novel, Offred detaches from her present environment and recalls past events—such as her marriage to Luke and her time at the Red Center—while admitting that she constructs her descriptions from memory since she has no way to write anything down. Offred describes her world in detailed, multi-clause sentences. During the Ceremony, while the Commander is “fucking,” Offred describes the bedroom in detail even though she cannot see it: “What I would see, if I were to open my eyes, would be[…]only the canopy, which manages to suggest at one and the same time, by the gauziness of its fabric and its heavy downward curve, both ethereality and matter.” This intricate, autobiographical revelation suggests that, for Offred, finding beauty and meaning wherever she can is a survival tactic, and even a form of resistance. She explains that she includes repetitive descriptions to impose some control on a story in which she is otherwise helpless: “I’ve tried to put some good things in as well. Flowers, for instance.”