The Handmaid’s Tale

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Themes and Colors
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Handmaid’s Tale, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love Theme Icon

Despite Offred’s general passivity in the face of the oppressive society, she has a deep and secret source of strength: her love. Though love might keep Offred complacent, permitting her to daydream rather than to rebel outright, it’s also responsible for the book’s greatest triumph, as love drives Nick to help Offred escape, which she manages more effectively than Moira or Ofglen. Her love for her mother, her daughter, Luke, Moira, and ultimately Nick, allow her to stay sane, and to live within her memories and emotions instead of the terrible world around her. Although the novel never proposes an ideal society or a clear way to apply its message to the real world, and although the novel looks critically both on many modern movements, including the religious right and the extreme feminist left, love—both familial and romantic—surprisingly turns out to be the most effective force for good.

Love is also a driving force behind other characters’ actions. We know that Nick reciprocates Offred’s feelings, but also the search for love, in the form of a real, not purely functional human connection, influences the Commander’s desires to bend the rules for Offred. In the end, love is the best way to get around Gilead’s rules, as it allows for both secret mental resistance, and for the trust and risk that result in Offred’s great escape.

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Love Quotes in The Handmaid’s Tale

Below you will find the important quotes in The Handmaid’s Tale related to the theme of Love.
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.

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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 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 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 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.