HandmaidsThe next meeting of the All Good Books group will be on Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 7 PM in the Community of Christ Church Library (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS). The group will discuss one of two books (choose what you wish to read, one or both): The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer. Discussion questions for the Atwood book are posted below. Discussion questions for the Timmer book will be posted later.

Discussion questions for The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. What is a dystopia and how does it contrast with a utopia?
  2. What are some of the events that led to the dystopia in the novel (page 174)?
  3. Were you surprised that the novel was written by a woman? Why or why not?
  4. How would you describe the novel? Imaginative, hopeful, distressing, depressing, unbelievable, or?
  5. The narrator refers to several Colloquialisms from the “before time.” What is the before time?
  6. Authors of science fiction often take events from today’s news and extrapolate them into the future. What events today might lead to the dystopia described in the novel?
  7. Among the colloquialisms in the novel are the following. Have you heard them? What does each mean to you?
    “Waste not, want not.” Page 7
    “I know what you mean” and “I hear where you’re coming from.” Page 11.
    “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Page 52
    “The understatement of the year…” Page 137
    “Time to take stock.” Page 143
    “Context is all.” Page 144
    “Steel yourself.” Page 160
    “Even Steven.” Page 172
    “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” Page 211
    “What are you waiting for?” Page 291
  8. What is an Eye? An Angel? What is meant by the phrase “under his Eye?” Page 18.
  9. What does the following passage from page 18 of the novel tell you about the society described by Offred and its origins? “I used to be bad at waiting. They also serve who only stand and wait, said Aunt Lydia. She made us memorize it. She also said, Not all of you will make it through. Some of you will fall on dry ground or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted. She had a mole on her chin that went up and down while she talked. She said, Think of yourselves as seeds, and right then her voice was wheedling, conspiratorial, like the voices of those women who used to teach ballet classes to children, and who would say, Arms up in the air now; let’s pretend we’re trees. I stand on the corner, pretending I am a tree.”
  10. On page 24, Aunt Lydia says, “There is more than one kind of freedom….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.” Is it possible to have freedom to and freedom from? Explain.
  11. What did Aunt Lydia mean (page 25) when she says “We were a society dying, of too much choice.”
  12. What was the role of the Econowives (described on page 24) in the Gilead society? Do we have a similar position in today’s society?
  13. Did you think the Epilogue added to or diminished the story? Was it necessary?
  14. Offred says on page 19 (with the war with the Baptists raging off-screen) “…I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.” Do you see a parallel today or has one occurred during your lifetime, when news (any news) was better than no news?
  15. In Gilead, men are hung for past crimes (Angel Makers), “Gender Treachery” is punished by death, women are not allowed to write, stores are marked by images rather than lettered names, and one’s clothing is standardized (red, blue, green, black, striped). Why?
  16. Serena Joy is described by the narrator this way (page 45). “She wasn’t singing anymore by then, she was making speeches. She was good at it. Her speeches were about the sanctity of the home, about how women should stay home. Serena Joy didn’t do this herself, she made speeches instead, but she presented this failure of hers as a sacrifice she was making for the good of all.” Is this a case of “do as I say, not as I do?” Or is a contradictory life style sometimes necessary to make political and social gains?
  17. On page 46, the life situation of Serena Joy is described as “She doesn’t make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn’t seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she’s been taken at her word.” What’s your reaction to Serena Joy? Is she an admirable character? Pathetic? Powerful? Neglected?
  18. On page 48, the narrator says, “The dishtowel is white with blue stripes. Dishtowels are the same as they always were. Sometimes these flashes of normality come at me from the side, like ambushes. The ordinary, the usual, a reminder, like a kick. I see the dishtowel, out of context, and I catch my breath. For some, in some ways, things haven’t changed that much.” Have you ever had a memory triggered by an object? Describe it and indicate whether the memory was pleasant, painful or just unwanted.
  19. What does “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” mean? Why is it used several places in the story?
  20. At one point in the story, Offred says, “We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.” What does she mean? Who are these people?
  21. The Red Center’s official name is the “Rachel and Leah Center.” What’s the significance of the name?
  22. What caused the inability of many women in Gilead to bear children. See page 112.
  23. Do you agree with the statement (page 125), “But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”
  24. Why do you think the Commander want to see Offred alone in his study? Why would he show her an old copy of Vogue (page 156)?
  25. Do you agree “Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.” See page 211.
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1 Comment Post your own or leave a trackback: Trackback URL

  1. […] In March we’ll discuss “Mrs. Saint and the Defectives” by Julie Lawson Timmer and “The Hand Maid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. Discussion questions for both books are available online, respectively, at https://allbooksclub.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/january-book-club-meeting-on-the-11th/ and https://allbooksclub.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/discussion-questions-for-the-hand-maids-tale/. […]

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