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The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood

Key Questions and Answers

Summary Key Questions and Answers

What is the significance of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in The Handmaid’s Tale?

The use of Cambridge, Massachusetts, allows Atwood to indirectly link the fictional Gilead with the historical Puritan society created hundreds of years earlier, in the 1600s. Both groups emphasized religion, patriarchal authority, and the banishment of those members who did not agree with their beliefs and ideas. In fact, the most readily identifiable feature of Cambridge—Harvard University—was first established as a seminary. By never naming Cambridge or Harvard, however, Atwood broadens her novel's appeal as well as its horror, underscoring the idea that such authoritarianism could arise anywhere, even in the reader’s own community.