Notes on Objects & Places from The Handmaid's Tale

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The Handmaid's Tale Objects/Places

Handmaids' Outfit: The outfit of the Handmaids is almost entirely red. The dress is cut modestly and gloves are often worn with it. A white, winged bonnet accompanies the outfit. The bonnet limits a Handmaid's vision and is often worn with a veil.

Pornography: Offred's mother participates in a demonstration against pornography. As a child, Offred is not scandalized by a pornographic image she sees at the demonstration. Pornography is readily available in traveling vans and franchised stores in the pre-Gilead United States. The Handmaids are shown pornographic films at the Red Center to demonstrate the horrors inflicted on women in pre-Gilead society.

The Wall: Gilead has transformed a former university into a prison run by their secret police, the Eyes of God. Dissidents are executed and hung on the outer walls of the university as a warning to the people of Gilead of the punishment for heresy.

Winged Eye: A winged eye is the symbol used by the secret police of Gilead, the Eyes of God. It appears upon their black vans, which carry the reign of terror in Gilead. The Eyes are always watching for unorthodox behavior, and ruthlessly root out unbelievers in the ideology of Gilead.

Knife: Offred repeatedly describes her craving for knives as well as shears. Handmaids are systematically denied access to knives and sharp objects. One of Serena's main occupations is cutting flowers in her garden. Offred describes her as cutting off the plants sexual organs.

Baby Angela: Janine is the only Handmaid in the novel to become pregnant. The other Handmaids are deeply jealous of her. At the birthing of baby Angela, many Handmaids are present. They all experience sympathetic birth pangs. When the baby is born she is immediately taken away from Janine by the Wives and named Angela. Later we find that the baby dies. Janine blames herself for its death because the father was not her Commander.

Flowers: Offred describes flowers in detail several times in the novel. Red tulips like empty chalices thrust themselves up in Serena's yard only to explode and whither. Offred often describes the ideal Handmaid as an empty chalice as well. One evening she sneaks downstairs to steal a single daffodil as a means of compensating for her lack of power in almost every area of life. Later, Offred describes irises as subversive and sexual, silently insistent. Serena cuts off the sexual organs of the plants to allow the bulbs to store power. Gardening is a distraction for both Serena and Offred in former times.

Soul Scrolls: Machines that print out and mechanically voice standard prayers. Wives pay to have these prayer printed because it is considered pious to do so. The Soul Scrolls remind Offred of Tibetan prayer wheels. Offred and Ofglen do not believe God hears these prayers.

Jezebel's: The officially sanctioned setting for the elite males of Gilead as well as foreign businessmen to indulge their desire for extramarital sex. The Commander brings Offred to the club illegally to entertain himself. Moira belongs to a group of women who work as prostitutes at Jezebel's. They all have been sterilized and wear revealing, pre-Gilead fashions. Jezebel is the name of a sinful and manipulative queen in the Bible.

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