The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Tone

The tone of The Handmaid’s Tale is dark and bleak. Within the ruthless, totalitarian state of Gilead, the characters—especially women—have lost their freedom and lead miserable lives. Offred and the other Handmaids are routinely abused, with their personhood entirely stripped away as they become possessions of their assigned households and are forced to participate in institutionalized rape. As fear permeates Gilead, Offred constantly lives in paranoia, imagining worst case scenarios, such as Oflgen lying about May Day and Luke being imprisoned or dead. Her thoughts sometimes border on the macabre in their bluntness, such as when she considers saving a match for future use: “I could burn the house down. Such a fine thought, it makes me shiver.”

At times, the tone of The Handmaid’s Tale turns nostalgic for the world before Gilead. Despite the pain of revisiting the past, Offred finds refuge in her memories. On a walk through Gilead, she remembers strolling with Luke on the same streets and talking about their future house and the swings they would build for their future children. Now, “such freedom...seems almost weightless.” Besides reminiscing on how she used to spend her time, Offred also longs for the former relationship she had with her body. She used to view her body as “an implement for the accomplishment of my will,” but now sees it as an object abused by others. These elegiac musings combine with Offred’s dark descriptions of the brutal present to create a truly bleak tone.