March 7th Discussion

  • The Handmaid’s Tale Ch. 24-Historical Notes
  • Public Pregnancies and Cultural Narratives of Surveillance
Questions for The Handmaid’s Tale, Chapters 24-46, Historical Notes:
  1. In Chapter 31, Serena suggests to Offred that the Commander is impotent. She goes on to propose that Offred should try to conceive with another man. Why do you think Serena makes this proposition? Is she being sincere, or does she have another motive?
  2. “ “It means you can’t cheat Nature,” he says. “Nature demand’s variety, for men. It stands to reason, it’s part of the procreational strategy. It’s Nature’s plan.” I don’t say anything, so he goes on.” How do the characters find ways to follow their natural instinct?
  1. Over the course of the novel, babies are referred to as “a keeper,” “unbabies,” “shredders.” What other real or fictional worlds do these terms suggest?
  2. What do you think happens to Offred at the end of the novel?
  3. What do you feel the historical notes at the book’s end add to the reading of this novel? What does the following line mean to you?
“Voices may reach us from it [history]; but what they say to us is imbued with the obscurity of the matrix out of which they come; and, try as we may, we cannot always decipher them precisely in the clearer light of our own day.”
  1. How would this book be different if it didn’t include the “Historical Notes”?
  2. What would this story look like if it hinged on male, rather than female, fertility?
  3. Do you think Atwood’s vision of the future is realistic? Why or why not?
Questions for Public Pregnancies and Cultural Narratives of Surveillance:
  1. In the article, Balsalmo refers to Offred as both “a womb with legs” and as a “national resource”. While both may be true in regards to the way the handmaids are viewed in Gilead, would all of the handmaids agree with these statements?
  2. As technology throughout the medical field has progressed, several new devices have been developed for fetal monitoring. These developments have expanded the jurisdiction of the modern-day obstetrician “to include responsibility for interpreting the output of monitoring devices”. Do these responsibilities contribute to making the role of the obstetrician more important now compared to in the past? Can the role of the obstetrician be separated from that of technology’s role in fetal monitoring? If so, which role holds greater importance?
  3. When describing the various new reproductive technologies available today, it is stated that such services “are usually marketed to upper-middle-class (infertile) couples who can afford to spend more than $35,000 trying to conceive a child”. Are the costs for these “commercial babymaking services” justified? Does this discrimination sound similar to Atwood’s tale happening in modern day society? What elements would contribute to this manifestation? What exists that would protect against such a situation?
  4. Balsalmo states that “the maternal body is overscrutinized in its relationship to the developing fetus”, while the interest in the role that the “paternal biological influences” have is less investigated. Is this statement true in the modern context? How would the society in Gilead change if the potential fathers of the handmaids’ children were scrutinized in the same way as the handmaids?