Reading The Handmaid’s Tale
The focus in reading The Handmaid’s Tale shifts to analysis of macrocosmic powers in the dystopian society of the novel, especially as they intersect with gender. The world of the novel is one in which gender determines a person’s role and opportunities in life, so the students’ work on understanding gender and power relations during the first semester are used in conjunction with their understanding of dystopian fiction as they read.
Again, it is important that students keep a record of textual evidence and its significance in their critical reading journal. The themes in the novel include government control, the dangers of indifference, using religion as a means of control, and gender discrimination. Structural complexities include a narrative that shifts abruptly in time, characters who are not clearly defined by genre conventions (i.e., possible absence of a dystopian protagonist), epigraphs, and historical notes from far in the future at the end of the novel. The complexity of both the themes and structure may require more support from teacher-guided whole class discussions and appropriate external resources.
Finally, because students wrote an essay on a more defined topic during the first semester, they can be encouraged to write a longer essay at the end of the academic year on a topic of their choice around The Handmaid’s Tale.