Chapter summaries 1-24

Night

Chapter 1

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood opens with a flashback description of a gymnasium. The narrator, Offred, explains how they slept in camp beds there while women called “Aunts” watched over them with cattle prods. They fantasized of escaping and they learned to whisper silently, telling each other their names. 

Shopping

Chapter 2

The second chapter opens with a description of Offred’s room, which is simply furnished and contains nothing that could be used to harm herself. She gets up, gets dressed in a red outfit that completely covers her skin and hair, and goes down to the kitchen. She would like to talk to the cook Rita and the maid Cora, but they do not like her. Rita gives her tokens that can be exchanged for food in town. 

Chapter 3

Offred recalls arriving at the house five weeks previously. The Commander’s wife, whose name is Serena Joy, explained to Offred that she wants to see her as little as possible. Offred recognized her as a well-known television Gospel singer who was part of the Gilead revolution. 

Chapter 4

Offred walks out past one of the household’s Guardians, Nick, who is washing the car. He winks at her. On the corner of the street, she meets another handmaid, Ofglen. They have a short conversation and walk to the shops, passing checkpoints manned by Guardians. 

Chapter 5

Offred and Ofglen walk through a pretty neighborhood with large houses. It feels fake to Offred, who remembers walking there with Luke, her husband, before the revolution. Offred thinks about how she often used to feel unsafe around men; now, men would not dare to touch her, but she is not free. 

In the shop, Offred exchanges tokens for food. Ofwarren, a pregnant handmaid, comes in. Offred recalls that Ofwarren used to be called Janine and that she did not like her. On the way back, Offred and Ofglen are stopped by a group of Japanese tourists. They ask if the handmaids are happy. Offred and Ofglen reply that they are, because it would be dangerous not to. 

Chapter 6

Offred and Ofglen walk back via the Wall. This is where Gilead hangs the dead bodies of people who have been executed. Today, Offred can see the bodies of six doctors who used to perform abortions. 

Night

Chapter 7

Offred recalls spending time with her friend Moira when they were at university, as well as an episode from her childhood, when she and her mother went to a park where people were burning pornographic magazines. She then remembers a time after the revolution, waking up confused and asking what happened to her daughter. She was shown a picture of her daughter wearing a white dress, standing with another family. 

Waiting room

Chapter 8

Ofglen and Offred are at the Wall, looking at the bodies of a priest and two men who were suspected of homosexuality. On the way back, Ofglen comments that it is a beautiful May day. Offred remembers that “mayday” used to be a distress signal, but she does not say anything. 

Back at the house, Offred remembers how Serena Joy used to make speeches about how a woman’s place was in the home. Offred thinks that Serena Joy is not very happy now t...

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