Close Analysis - Handmaid's Tale in 25 quotations

This guide provides a close reading of 25 key quotations from Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. The quotations are divided by theme (e.g. ‘Selfhood, Bodies and Doubles’ ‘Power’, ‘Language and Speech’) to cover the most important recurring ideas in the text. Each quotation is then extensively analysed to cross-reference characters and motifs throughout the novel and to provide a linguistic close reading of the text. As a whole, this provides an effective summary of the novel. An essential revision resource for students - but also very useful for educators teaching The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time. Strongly recommended for A level literature or A level language and literature courses on any specification. See below for a sample of the close analysis provided:

*THEME: THE PAST
P13 – “dances would have been held there, the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound”
From the start of the novel, the past pulses through the present. This line from the first chapter powerfully demonstrates the residual echoes of the time before (as we are told in the very first line “we slept in what had once been the gymnasium” – a room defined by its past) that coexist alongside the room’s new incarnation as the Red Centre dormitory. A semantic field of desire runs through the opening, seen here in Offred’s reference to teenage courtship at school dances. This emphasises the stark contrast between life then and her situation now, stripped of all genuine love and connection. The soft, sibilant sounds in ‘lingered’ and ‘palimpsest’ also convey this sense of yearning to return to an unreachable past. ‘Palimpsest’ is an obscure noun, meaning a text overwritten upon an earlier text. This introduces themes of communication and language, as well as what is hidden and the gulf between appearance and reality.
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