The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood
Main Ideas

Special Terms

Main Ideas Special Terms

The society of Gilead uses a specialized, largely religious vocabulary to enforce hierarchy and hide the harsh meanings of its rituals. Here you'll find a list of terms referenced in The Handmaid's Tale.

All Flesh, Loaves and Fishes, Milk and Honey

Names of food stores that come from Biblical references. These names are not printed on signs because women are forbidden to read.

Angel 

A soldier in the Gileadean military.

Aunt 

The Aunts serve as disciplinarians and midwives, and indoctrinate future Handmaids with Gileadean ideology. They are older, unmarried women.

Behemoth, Whirlwind, and Chariot 

Automobile names.

Birth Day 

The day when a Handmaid goes into labor and delivers a child.

Children of Ham 

A term derived from the Bible, used to refer to African Americans.

Commander (of the Faithful)  

A male member of the Gileadean elite.

Eye 

A member of the Gileadean secret police.

Econowife 

The wife of a low-status Gileadean man.

Gender traitors 

Gay people.

Guardians (of the Faith) 

Members of the local police force. These are male Gileadeans who are too young, old, or physically weak for the army. Guardians often work for the Commanders as servants.

Handmaid 

A fertile woman who is assigned to a Commander for the purpose of bearing his children.

Martha  

A female domestic servant.

Prayvaganza 

A public gathering, either of all women or all men. Female Prayvaganzas are usually weddings for the Wives’ daughters. Male Prayvaganzas celebrate military victories.

Particicution 

An execution carried out by a large group of people. 

Salvaging 

A public execution.

Sons of Jacob 

A term derived from the Bible, used to refer to Jews.

Unbaby 

A baby born with birth defects or other difficulties. These Unbabies are not considered valuable to society and so are killed.

Unwoman 

A term applied to feminists and other female enemies of the state.

Wife 

A female member of the Gileadean elite who is married to a Commander.