Structure

Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale is divided into 15 sections. These have titles which suggest either the time of the events or the events themselves, for example “Night” or “Shopping”. These sections are divided into numbered chapters, of which there are 46 in total. 

The events are primarily narrated chronologically in the first person in the present tense. However, the present-tense narration is interrupted repeatedly by a large number of flashbacks. Some of these flashbacks are only a couple of sentences long, and other times, they take up most of a chapter. The flashbacks are narrated in the past tense and are generally used to describe either Offred’s experiences at the Handmaid training center or her memories from before the revolution, when she lived with her husband Luke and her daughter. 

In fact, the first chapter opens with a flashback to Offred’s time in the training center: “We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there.” (Chapter 1, 0%). The flashbacks to the training center are often used to show how the Gilead regime tried to convert the Handmaids to their way of thinking, and the ideals that they were trying to get them to believe:

Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles. 

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. (Chapter 5, 23%)

They are also used to show the violence routinely used by the Gilead regime, creating ...

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