The Handmaid’s Tale

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Houghton Mifflin Company edition of The Handmaid’s Tale published in 1986.
Chapter 1 Quotes

We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability?

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Color Red
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel opens with Offred recalling the time she spent inside a building that was formerly used as a school, which the reader later learns is the Rachel and Leah Re-Education Center, or the "Red Center." Offred has described the gymnasium, imagining the activities that took place there before the school was turned into the Red Center––activities that invoke the lively, happy, and carefree mood of youth. She says that the atmosphere now is one of "yearning," although it's not clear what for.

This abstract longing is explained by the fact that people of Offred's age and older were alive before the United States became the Republic of Gilead, and thus remember what the world was like before; however, their memories are vague, and their nostalgia for the past turns into a desire for an unknown future. The word "insatiability"––meaning a hunger or desire that cannot be satisfied––indicates the shame associated with desire in the world of the novel. Indeed, "insatiable" is often used in a sexual context, and Offred's words thus evoke disgust and condemnation of women's sexuality––a phenomenon that exists in our modern world, yet is vastly exaggerated in Gilead. In this context, the women's "insatiable" desire is simply for a world in which they are free and equal.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

Waste not want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want?

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Eye
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Having recalled the time she spent sleeping in the gymnasium of the Red Center, Offred has moved on to describe a second room, which we later learn is her bedroom in the Commander's house. She has detailed the sparse furnishings and the plastered-over light socket in the ceiling, which reminds her of an eye socket. Offred notes that the rug looks like "folk art," reflective of a cultural preference for artifacts that are handmade by women. She observes that this reflects "a return to traditional values" and the principle "waste not want not." Offred's statement that she is not being wasted highlights the way in which women are used like tools or instruments in Gilead, treated as objects with no value beyond their designated function, which, for Offred, is her fertility. 

Once again, Offred invokes the moral disdain for desire, and particularly desire felt by women. She expresses the view that because she is "not being wasted," it is strange or illogical that she should "want." This reveals that Offred has internalized the idea that women are more like objects than people, and that it is abnormal or morally wrong for women to experience the most basic human emotions, including desire. Her use of a well-known saying highlights how deeply embedded this idea is within the culture of Gilead. 

I try not to think too much. Like other things now, thought must be rationed.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has continued describing her room in the Commander's house, and recalled Aunt Lydia telling her to "think of it as like being in the army." She describes the single bed in the room, saying that the only thing that happens there is sleep ("or no sleep"), and says that she "rations" her thoughts. This statement highlights the austere, dull scarcity of life in Gilead. Not only has Offred lost access to material pleasures, intimacy with others, and freedom, but even her thoughts are restricted and impoverished by the oppressive world in which she lives. Offred's admission that she tries not to "think too much" suggests that too much thinking is dangerous, especially for women who, like her, live such tightly controlled lives. 

Chapter 4 Quotes

I enjoy the power; power of a dog bone, passive but there.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has described a routine shopping outing with Ofglen, the only time the women are allowed out of the house. Nick has winked at her, which makes her worry that he is an Eye. Offred and Ofglen pass a checkpoint manned by two Guardians, one of whom looks at Offred's face; as she walks away, Offred swings her hips, hoping to inspire sexual desire in the Guardians and saying she enjoys the power of her desirability, which she compares to the "power of a dog bone." This scene reveals that the intense repression in Gilead has not successfully eliminated sexual desire and activity, but simply forced it to be expressed in more secretive and subtle ways. Similarly, although Offred's power and freedom are severely restricted, they cannot be erased altogether; her "passive" power remains. 

Although the particular situation described in this passage seems far from life in the contemporary United States, the fundamental questions it raises are nonetheless relevant. What does it mean to have "passive power"? Does this power ultimately make Offred more or less free? By comparing herself to a dog bone, Offred emphasizes that she is treated as an object. Yet at the same time, she illustrates that even sexual objects exert influence over others––indeed, it is precisely this influence that threatens the repressive and misogynistic ideology of Gilead. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker), Aunt Lydia (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has continued to describe her walk through town, reflecting on the differences between the world she currently lives in and the society in which she grew up. She has recalled that there were "rules" for women's behavior in the time before Gilead, such as not opening the door to a stranger and not turning around if someone whistled at you. She remembers Aunt Lydia telling her that in the old days, women only had "freedom to," but now they have "freedom from," and that she should be grateful for this. To some extent, Aunt Lydia's words seem ridiculous; clearly, Offred is far less free than she was before she was made a Handmaid, proving that "freedom from" is not equal to "freedom to," and perhaps shouldn't be considered "freedom" at all.

On the other hand, Offred's description of the "rules" for women that existed in the past demonstrates that during this time women were not completely free, either. Although Aunt Lydia exaggerates how terrible life was for women before the Gilead regime, Offred's comparison reminds the reader that throughout history women have been oppressed and controlled, often with the explanation that this is for their own protection. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred is lying in bed, and has recalled hazy memories from different moments in her life, featuring Moira, her mother, and her daughter. She has recalled waking up from a drug-induced sleep to find that her daughter had been taken from her and assigned to another family. She confesses that she wants to believe that "this is a story I'm telling," as this will help her to survive. There are several layers of meaning to Offred's wish. On the surface, she seems to be referring to the importance of storytelling as a way to preserve one's dignity, and to feel loved and valued. Offred believes she will have "a better chance" to survive if she can imagine one day escaping her life as a Handmaid and telling her story to a willing listener. 

However, although the reader does not yet know it, the novel is a story that Offred is telling; the "Historical Notes" at the end of the book reveal that the narrative was found recorded on audio cassettes in Maine. This suggests that perhaps Offred means she wishes her experiences were only a story. Even while relating the terrible events that happened to her, she wishes to believe they are only a story in order to preserve her sanity and dignity. 

Chapter 9 Quotes

We thought we had such problems. How were we to know we were happy?

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has described the time when she first arrived at the Commander's house and spent hours looking around her new bedroom. This memory has then made her think of hotel rooms, and the time she spent having an affair with Luke while he was still married. She reflects that at the time they thought they had "such problems" and did not appreciate how happy they truly were.

This passage conveys the clichéd wisdom of not being able to appreciate what you have until it's gone. Regardless of how difficult it might have been to conduct their affair in secret, at least Offred and Luke were free, and loved each other. At the same time, Offred does not condemn or resent her former inability to enjoy the freedom she had, asking rhetorically how she could have known otherwise.

Nolite te bastardes carborandorum.

Related Characters: The Previous Handmaid (speaker)
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has returned to the memory of looking around the bedroom when she first arrived at the Commander's house. She recalls looking inside a cupboard, and describes seeing hooks and wondering why no one has removed them. In the darkest corner of the cupboard, someone has scratched the phrase "Nolite te bastardes carborandorum," Latin for "Don't let the bastards grind you down." Offred suspects the words are written in Latin, but as she doesn't know the language she cannot confirm if this is true, or figure out what they mean. However, the message pleases her, if only because it is a secret piece of communication that has not been discovered or erased. 

Later in the novel, we find out that the words were written by the previous Handmaid, who hanged herself. At first this fact seems incredibly bleak, as it suggests the previous Handmaid was not able to follow her own advice, and could not bear to live imprisoned in the Commander's house. On the other hand, there is also a note of hope within the secret message. Perhaps the previous Handmaid committed suicide not as a way of giving up, but as a final act of defiance against the "bastards" who attempted to control her. Meanwhile, her words give courage to Offred even though Offred can't understand them, showing the power of hope and solidarity. 

Chapter 10 Quotes

Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred is once again lost in her memories, recalling Aunt Lydia describing, horrified, the way women used to dress with, while meanwhile Moira was planning an "underwhore" party in which she would sell lingerie to women. With the benefit of hindsight, Offred sees how the extreme misogyny in Gilead came to be, though she notes that at the time people dismissed evidence that society was headed in this direction. As a result, society changed in a severe way without people noticing until it was too late. This is both an accurate description of historical change and a powerful warning about the world in which we live. The Handmaid's Tale carefully shows how features of our present world might be distorted with nightmarish results, and this passage serves as a warning about how easily this could happen.

Chapter 11 Quotes

I’ve crossed no boundaries, I’ve given no trust, taken no risk, all is safe. It’s the choice that terrifies me. A way out, a salvation.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has gone to the doctor for her monthly checkup, and the doctor has offered to have sex with her in order to help her get pregnant, an illegal offence for which they could both be killed. Although Offred refuses, she is left terrified by the incident––not because she has done anything wrong, but because she is frightened by "the choice" presented before her. This passage shows that in the tightly controlled world of Gilead, Offred has begun to lose faith in herself. After all, before she became a Handmaid, Offred attempted to escape from Gilead with her daughter and Luke, an act requiring enormous courage. However, in her present isolated condition, Offred is much more timid and passive, implying that resistance only becomes possible through solidarity and love. 

At the same time, Offred's fear also emphasizes just how precarious and impossible a situation she is in. She reassures herself that "all is safe," however in reality she is not safe, no matter how submissively she obeys the rules. In fact, if she is not eventually able to get pregnant, she will be exiled or put to death anyway, an outcome that would actually mean it would have been safer to have had forbidden sex with the doctor. Given these unknowable factors, it is hardly surprising that Offred is so overwhelmed and terrified by the decision of whether or not to sleep with him.

Chapter 12. Quotes

I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred is having a bath, which she has at regular times that are not chosen by her. The bath has been run by Cora, who sits outside, and items such as a mirror, razor, and lock are all forbidden. In the bath is one of the only times when Offred is able to touch her own hair, which she enjoys; however, she refuses to look at her body, resenting the fact that it "determines me so completely." This passage emphasizes the fact that Offred has been reduced from being a person to being a body, an object or tool appreciated only for its use. The fact that her bath is scheduled and controlled further confirms the way in which Offred is treated like a tool or animal, rather than a person.

Note that this treatment creates a different kind of body shame from the kind promoted by a religious mindset, but a body shame nonetheless. Offred's thoughts indicate that there is not much difference between being treated as a sex object and being "valued" for your fertility––both are equally degrading.

Chapter 13 Quotes

But maybe boredom is erotic, when women do it, for men.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred reflects on the fact that she has so little to do, and wishes she could pursue a hobby, such as weaving or knitting. She recalls paintings of harems that depict women looking bored, and suggests that perhaps men find boredom erotic, "when women do it." Out of context, this thought is fairly innocuous––all kinds of things can be erotic, some of them rather unexpected.

However, bearing in mind the way that women are treated in Gilead, Offred's words take on a particularly sinister meaning. The "boredom" that she experiences results from the fact that she has no freedom, independence, or access to resources. If men find this erotic, it suggests that men's sexual attraction to women includes the desire to control and belittle women.

Chapter 18 Quotes

But this is wrong, nobody dies from lack of sex. It’s lack of love we die from.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

While sneaking downstairs to steal a daffodil, Offred has run into Nick, and the two share an erotically-charged moment. Back in her room, Offred remembers lying in bed with Luke while she was pregnant, and thinks that if she thought she'd never have sex again she'd die. She then corrects herself, saying that people can live without sex but not without love. This view resonates ambiguously with the events of the novel. Despite the sexual repression by the state, Gilead is a world filled with sex––from the Ceremony to Jezebel's to the illicit acts and gestures performed in secret between various characters. This indicates that people's drive to have sex will survive even the strictest repression of sexuality.  

On the other hand, all that sex doesn't seem to make people very happy or provide much meaning to their lives. And for Offred herself, sex has come to play a rather negative role in her life––yet she is sustained by her memories of love. Indeed, this quotation relates back to Offred's statement that believing she is "telling a story" helps her to stay alive. Both strategies highlight the fundamental importance in trusting that there are people out there in the world who love and care about you. 

Chapter 19 Quotes

A thing is valued, she says, only if it is rare and hard to get.

Related Characters: Aunt Lydia (speaker)
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has been taken to Janine's house, where Janine is giving birth. As they wait to find out if the baby is healthy, Offred experiences a flashback to the Red Center, where Aunt Lydia taught her and the other Handmaids about the causes of infertility, including the history of sexual contraception. Offred resentfully recalls Aunt Lydia's statement that "a thing is valued... only if it is rare and hard to get." Aunt Lydia is referring to women's sexual availability, and once again, it is clear that in Gilead women are considered to be no more than "things." Aunt Lydia's concern over value is similarly degrading, by implying that women are not just objects but commodities whose value is conditional, rather than inherent. 

Although Aunt Lydia's words seem strikingly harsh in the context of the novel, in reality she echoes much of the kind of language used to promote abstinence among unmarried young people in the real world. Even at the most basic level, many young women are encouraged to play "hard to get" or otherwise not agree to sex too early or enthusiastically. By drawing this parallel with our contemporary world, Atwood once again emphasizes that the contemporary U.S. may not be as far from Gilead as we think. 

Chapter 21 Quotes

You wanted a women’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker), Offred’s Mother
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred is at Janine's house while Janine is giving birth, and has been recalling her time in the Red Center, when the women were shown videos of "unwomen." One of these videos showed Offred's mother at a feminist rally, and Offred then remembers the fights she and her mother used to have about feminism. At the Red Centre, she recalls thinking about her mother, who had "wanted a women's culture." The Red Centre––along with the whole structure of Handmaids, wives, and other castes of women––is, as Offred reflects in this passage, a "women's culture" of sorts. Socialization is segregated by gender, so women spend time almost exclusively with other women, engaged in "feminine" activities such as housework.

This passage suggests that Offred believes radical feminism was part of a chain of events that led to the establishment of Gilead. While she acknowledges that the hyper-religious, restricted world she now lives in is far from what her mother and other feminists intended, it seems that the backlash against radical feminist activity helped to bring about this new, ultra traditional era. Her comment "Be thankful for small mercies" is largely ironic, a reference to the religious imperative that Offred be grateful for the hellish world in which she now lives. On the other hand, we could perhaps read a note of sincerity in it, too – although the "women's culture" Offred now lives in is misogynist and oppressive, there are several moments when she finds strength and solidarity through her connections to other women, such as Moira, Ofglen, and the previous Handmaid. 

Chapter 23 Quotes

But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest. Maybe none of this is about control…maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has returned to the Commander's house after the birth of Janine's baby, where she thinks about the nature of storytelling and memory. She reflects on the "temptation" to forgive, and muses that perhaps the Gilead regime is "about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it." Offred contrasts this to the thought that Gilead is about "control"; yet her words suggest that being forgiven is perhaps an even more extreme version of control, because control itself consists of "who can do what to whom."

This passage is an important reminder that even the strictest totalitarian regimes are made up of thousands of interpersonal relationships. Offred's thoughts point out that even the most cruel and oppressive people want to be forgiven for the suffering they inflict on others.

Chapter 24 Quotes

You can think clearly only with your clothes on.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has secretly spent an evening with the Commander, playing an illicit game of Scrabble and then sharing a kiss. Back in her room, she sits on her bed with her clothes on, waiting before taking them off because she can't think clearly without them.

This observation reveals the complexity of the various forms of oppression to which women are subjected in the novel. In many ways, Offred's extremely modest and unwieldy Handmaid's uniform is oppressive––it robs her of individuality, and implies that her body is shameful. On the other hand, this quotation shows that nakedness can also be disempowering. Although her uniform is somewhat ridiculous and uncomfortable, Offred evidently feels protected by it. Her words suggest that concealing her body allows freedom and clarity in her mind. 

Chapter 26 Quotes

“Why expect one woman to carry out all the functions necessary to the serene running of a household? It isn’t reasonable or humane. Your daughters will have greater freedom.”

Related Characters: Aunt Lydia (speaker)
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred and the Commander have continued to meet in secret and their relationship grows friendlier; this then makes it awkward for both of them to participate in the Ceremony. Offred recalls Aunt Lydia telling her that, once the population has grown large enough, the Gilead regime hopes that every family will have a Handmaid. In this passage, Aunt Lydia explaining the reason behind such a policy, in terms that perversely echo certain forms of feminist rhetoric. As with her previous statement about "freedom to" and "freedom from," Aunt Lydia couches her logic in terms of freedom. Her words suggest that, even though the Handmaid system requires women to have a preassinged role not chosen by them, they will ultimately be more free because they will not have to run their household alone. 

There are, of course, clear logical and ethical problems in Aunt Lydia's argument. Most obviously, she fails to address why "the serene running of a household" is entirely the responsibility of women, without any input or responsibility from men. At the same time, Aunt Lydia's words relate to a criticism of certain types of feminism that exist in the real world. Some people argue that the American feminist movement of the 1970s and 80s created a system in which well-educated, middle and upper-class women were able to pursue the "freedom" of a career at the expense of domestic workers who then had to take on responsibilities such as cleaning and childcare. Although this situation is different from Gilead in many ways, Offred's role as a Handmaid is comparable to the experience of these domestic workers. 

Chapter 28 Quotes

He doesn’t mind this, I thought. He doesn’t mind it at all. Maybe he even likes it. We are not each other’s, anymore. Instead, I am his.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker), Luke
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has finally explained how the United States turned into the Republic of Gilead, recalling the time when, like all other women, she was fired from her job and had her bank account drained. She explains that she considered protesting, but that Luke encouraged her not to for her own safety. Instead, she became a housewife, and in this passage she remembers suspecting that Luke might have liked this shift in power. This is a surprising and important moment in the narrative, when Offred's relationship with Luke is shown to be more complicated than it first appears. There is no doubt that Offred loves Luke––the memory of him and hope that she might one day see him again sustains her, allowing her to survive her torturous life as a Handmaid. 

On the other hand, even Offred and Luke's devotion to one another cannot remain untainted by sexism and by the wider political situation in which they find themselves. Although Offred loves Luke, she can't help but suspect that he doesn't mind or even enjoys the power that the new state of affairs gives him over her. However, she never asks him about it, implying that sexism creates a communicative gulf between men and women, even those who love and trust each other. It seems that only in a truly equal society would men and women be able to love and communicate with total honesty. 

Chapter 33 Quotes

But people will do anything rather than admit that their lives have no meaning. No use, that is. No plot.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Ofred and Ofglen have gone to a Prayvaganza, and Oflgen observes that Janine has been moved to another family because the baby she had turned out to be a "shredder." Ofglen reveals that Janine thinks she has been punished by God for having sex with the doctor in order to get pregnant; Offred reflects that Janine only thinks this way to give her life a sense of meaning, a coherent "plot." This thought draws an interesting parallel between religion and storytelling.

Just as Janine and other true believers convince themselves that they live in order to please God, Offred gives her own life meaning by making a story out of it. This comparison allows Offred to feel sympathy for even the most reprehensible characters in the novel, as she believes their actions are motivated by their own fear and suffering. 

Chapter 40 Quotes

All I can hope for is a reconstruction: the way love feels is always only approximate.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

Compelled by Serena Joy, Offred has gone to Nick's apartment in order to have sex with him in the hope of getting pregnant. Offred tells several versions of her encounter with Nick; the first portrays the experience as positive and passionate, the second as awkward and transactional. She then admits that it is hard to accurately recreate what happened between them, saying "the way love feels is always only approximate."

Here Offred connects the experience of love to storytelling and memory. Indeed, these two themes are closely intertwined in the narrative, as many of Offred's memories are of times when she felt loved. However, the connection also illuminates the fact that both love and memory are elusive––we can never be sure of our perception of either. 

Chapter 41 Quotes

Humanity is so adaptable, my mother would say. Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.

Related Characters: Offred’s Mother (speaker)
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

Offred has started seeing Nick more regularly, enjoying her time with him and even idolizing him. When Ofglen offers to help her escape, Offred admits to herself that she no longer really wants to leave. At times, she feels that she loves Nick, but on other occasions she reasons that it is not love but simply necessity; she remembers her mother saying that people are "so adaptable," and that is amazing what they "can get used to." The world depicted in the novel reveals the truth of Offred's mother's words. Despite how quickly society has changed, and despite how oppressive life now is, people find ways to keep going and survive. 

However, it is debatable whether or not this is really a good thing. While adaptability and survival skills are impressive, they are also shown to be selfish. After all, now that Offred has managed to make life more enjoyable, she has lost interest in the Resistance. Adapting to one's circumstances can also, then, be interpreted as acquiescing to being controlled by others, as well as ignoring the plight of those who are in a worse position. 

Chapter 46 Quotes

And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Eye
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

The Eye van has arrived at the Commander's house to take Offred away, and Offred is terrified, wishing that she had killed herself while she had the chance. However, Nick has told her that the people in the van are actually members of the Resistance posing as Eyes; this is somewhat supported by the fact that they refuse to tell the Commander and Serena Joy why they are arresting Offred (although this is not conclusive). The final sentence of Offred's narrative describes her getting in the van, unsure if she is stepping into darkness or light. "Darkness" in this passage symbolizes suffering, death, and the meaninglessness of Offred's life if she is indeed killed by the state. "Light" is hope, morality, and the possibility of escape from Gilead, or even the end of the regime altogether.

This final sentence leaves the reader unsure of Offred's fate; given everything else that has happened in the novel, it seems almost equally likely that Offred will die or be saved. This ambiguity is connected to the novel's ambivalent presentation of human nature. Every major character in the narrative has the capacity to act in a cruel and selfish way, while also possessing at least some redeeming features. Offred's unknown destiny thus emphasizes the fact that people's behavior is difficult to predict, and the fate of the world is thus equally hard to determine. 

Historical Notes on the Handmaid’s Tale Quotes

We must be cautious about passing moral judgment upon the Gileadean. Surely we have learned by now that such judgments are of necessity culture-specific…our job is not to censure but to understand.”

Related Characters: Professor Pieixoto (speaker)
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

The "Historical Notes on the Handmaid's Tale," the final section of the novel, is an invented transcript of a speech at an academic conference on "Gileadean Studies" in the year 2195. Professor Pieixoto, an expert on Gilead from Cambridge University, has explained that he found Offred's story recorded on cassette tapes in Maine. Early on in his talk, Professor Pieixoto emphasizes that "we must be cautious about passing moral judgment upon the Gileadean."

At first glance, this passage can be read as a critique of the cultural relativism that has become dominant in the academic world and in contemporary feminism. Although it is usually good not to be overly judgmental, it is difficult to read Offred's story and be neutral about the world it depicts. Further, one could certainly argue that to insist on not judging the Gileadean's is to treat their society's terrible and oppressive treatment of women as legitimate and acceptable. Additionally, consider the impact of the choice to make Professor Pieixoto a man. Perhaps the dispassionate attitude he encourages is only possible because, as a man, he does not feel as intimately connected to Offred's suffering and the issue of misogyny in general.

On the other hand, Professor Pieixoto's words do resonate with the ambiguities and complexities depicted within Offred's narrative. Most characters, including Offred herself, are shown to be motivated by a complex mix of selfishness and altruism. Even symbols of Gilead authority, such as the Commander, are depicted as being conflicted and oppressed by the world which they have created. In this sense, Professor Pieixoto's advice may cohere with the overall message of the novel.

Finally, the phrase "our job is not to censure but to understand" is particularly significant, given the fact that The Handmaid's Tale has frequently been banned from high school syllabi. Such bans usually occur because local authorities deem the novel's explorations of sexuality to be too explicit, but making that assessment those authorities are therefore implying that women's sexuality and bodies are somehow shameful and should be controlled rather than understood. In other words, those banning the book seem to suggest that the impulse that, in the novel, led to the creation of Gilead is widespread in American society as well.

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