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Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale

4. Identity

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In this module, we think about the theme of identity, focusing in particular on Offred's construction of her own character, as well as her representation of those around her, including the (unnamed) Commander, Serena Joy (not her real name, we're told later), and the Aunts.


In this course, Dr Madeleine Davies (University of Reading) explores Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, the Handmaid's Tale. We begin by thinking about some of the contexts – political, religious, literary – that are relevant when reading the novel, before considering the novel's title, its epigraphs and its opening paragraphs. In the third module, we think about how the narrative is presented in the novel – in particular related to questions of authenticity – before turning in the fourth module to the theme of identity. In the fifth module, we consider the importance of surveillance in Gilead, focusing in particular on the themes of sight, seeing and being seen, before moving on in the sixth module to the connected themes of ideology and indoctrination. In the seventh module, we think about the impact that living in Gilead has on how one perceives the female body – especially one's own body – while in eighth we think about words and silence, focusing in particular on the scenes in which Offred plays Scrabble with the Commander. In the ninth module, we turn to the Historical Notes at the end of the novel, in which a future, post-Gileadean society tries to make sense of Offred's account, before turning in the tenth and final module to consider the longer-term relevance of the Handmaid's Tale – including looking at the 2017 TV adaptation of the novel starring Elizabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes.


Madeleine Davies is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Reading. She specialises in Women's Writing and Feminist Theory, particularly the work of Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood. She has published widely on Margaret Atwood in particular, including 'Margaret Atwood's Female Bodies' in C. A. Howells (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood (2006).

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APA style

Davies, M. (2018, August 15). Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale - Identity [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Davies, M. "Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale – Identity." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,