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.