Quotable Books: My Favorite Quotes from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

February 11, 2016 Quotable Books 29

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood


I felt like I was the last person in the world to read Margaret Atwood. I never read her in school and, by the time I got to her this Christmas, she’d been built up into a sparkling giant in my head. I was actually nervous to give her a go. What if I didn’t love her as much as I was “supposed to”? If I didn’t, would that mean there’s something wrong with me? Well, I shouldn’t have worried because I did love her…and The Handmaid’s Tale. And, her writing does sparkle, just as promised.

So, I thought it best to share some of my favorite quotes. To put this in perspective, my first draft of this post contained twenty quotes…I was hard-pressed to narrow it down to twelve.

My Favorite Quotes from The Handmaid’s Tale

Their faces were the way women’s faces are when they’ve been talking about you behind your back and they think you’ve heard: embarrassed, but also a little defiant, as if it were their right.

Their youth is touching, but I know I can’t be deceived by it. The young ones are often the most dangerous, the most fanatical, the jumpiest with their guns. They haven’t yet learned about existence through time.

It’s an event, a small defiance of rule, so small as to be undetectable, but such moments are the rewards I hold out for myself, like the candy I hoarded, as a child, at the back of a drawer. Such moments are possibilities, tiny peepholes.

Lilies used to be a movie theater, before. Students went there a lot; every spring they had a Humphrey Bogart festival, with Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn, women on their own, making up their minds. They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word undone. These women could be undone; or not. They seemed to be able to choose. We seemed to be able to choose, then. We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice.

Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now. We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.

I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name, remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me.

I know where I am, and who, and what day it is. These are the tests, and I am sane. Sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes.

But all around the walls there are bookcases. They’re filled with books. Books and books and books, right out in plain view, no locks, no boxes. No wonder we can’t come in here. It’s an oasis of the forbidden. I try not to stare.

No mother is ever, completely, a child’s idea of what a mother should be, and I suppose it works the other way around as well.

Maybe he just likes the satisfaction of knowing something secret. Of having something on me, as they used to say. It’s the kind of power you can only use once.

But he also is showing off to me. He is demonstrating, to me, his mastery of the world. He’s breaking the rules, under their noses, thumbing his noses at them, getting away with it. Perhaps he’s reached that state of intoxication which power is said to inspire, the state in which you believe you are indispensable and can therefore do anything, absolutely anything you feel like, anything at all.

Humanity is so adaptable, my mother would say. Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.

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29 Responses to “Quotable Books: My Favorite Quotes from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood”

    • admin

      SO gorgeous…and amazingly relevant. I kept forgetting it was written in the 1980’s. I’m trying to decide what should be the next Atwood I read…I’ve gotten a few recs for Alias Grace.

        • Naomi

          I haven’t read that one – partly because I have a hunch that it wouldn’t be my thing. Try The Handmaid’s Tale or Alias Grace or The Blind Assassin. Atwood writes so many different types of books that you’re bound to run into a few that don’t quite work for you.

    • admin

      I don’t think I would’ve appreciated it if I’d read it when I was young. Took some life experience as a woman to truly appreciate.

  1. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I haven’t read this one but put it out there on the back burner after seeing your initial post after reading it that stated you loved it. I love it when I find books that I highlight almost the entire book or so many quotable passages, but it really does make the decision process of what to share difficult.

    • admin

      I can’t wait to read some more from her! Thinking about what my next Atwood pick should be…some people have mentioned Alias Grace.

      • Judy

        Well I love them all but Alias Grace is a good one. Historical fiction with the emphasis on unfairness to women and an indomitable heroine, though she is also a bit nuts. So good!

  2. Kerry M

    This is still my favorite of Atwood’s works hands down (of those I’ve read — this, the Madaddam trilogy, Blind Assassin, Stone Mattress, Heart Goes Last). But most of her work is marked by these incredible, powerful sentences and passages that just make you pause and/or go frantically hunting for a pen. So glad you liked this one!

    • admin

      Well, hearing that makes me want to go read another one of her books pronto! I think she could write about almost anything in that style and I’d love it.

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