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

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 Comments

  1. I’ve read this several times now and new lines always stand out to me – such beautiful writing! So glad you gave it a try and can’t wait to hear what you think of her other books.

    Posted 2.11.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      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.

      Posted 2.12.16 Reply
  2. Carmen wrote:

    Great selection of quotes, Sarah. Now I feel I really have to read it.

    Posted 2.11.16 Reply
  3. You’re definitely not the last person… I have yet to read any Atwood!

    Posted 2.11.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Oh yeah – I feel better now ๐Ÿ™‚

      Posted 2.12.16 Reply
  4. Oh my god. These quotes are SO GOOD. I haven’t read any Atwood, but I have Handmaid on the shelf, so I really really feel the need to get to it now

    Posted 2.11.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Yes, yes – you must read Handmaid’s Tale!! And glad to hear I’m not the only person in the world just getting to Atwood.

      Posted 2.12.16 Reply
    • Kerry M wrote:

      JULIANNE! Go read Atwood right this very instant.

      Posted 2.16.16 Reply
  5. I read this in the late 80s and had forgotten about all the wonderful quotes. Time for a reread!!

    Posted 2.11.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      It’s still so relevant…I kept forgetting it was written in the 80’s!

      Posted 2.12.16 Reply
  6. I did read one Atwood and was underwhelmed. At some point, I’m going to read The Handmaid’s Tale, and then I will hopefully like her as much as everyone else.

    Posted 2.11.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Which did you read? I’ll try to avoid that one in my next Atwood go around ๐Ÿ™‚

      Posted 2.12.16 Reply
      • It was The Penelopeiad, about how Odysseus’ wife might have felt waiting decades for him to come home.

        Posted 2.17.16 Reply
        • Naomi wrote:

          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.

          Posted 2.17.16 Reply
  7. I feel as though I need to re-read this one. I didn’t enjoy it the first time around, but your enthusiasm makes me want to give it another go!

    Posted 2.12.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      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.

      Posted 2.12.16 Reply
  8. 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.

    Posted 2.12.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I literally think I highlighted half the book. No joke.

      Posted 2.12.16 Reply
  9. Judy wrote:

    She writes quotable passages in every book! Someday I am going to reread them all.

    Posted 2.12.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      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.

      Posted 2.12.16 Reply
      • Judy wrote:

        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!

        Posted 2.12.16 Reply
        • admin wrote:

          I’ve gotten that one a lot!

          Posted 2.15.16 Reply
  10. Don’t you love when a book has you highlighting so.many.quotes like this? Great selections, enjoyed meeting them again – it’s been a while since I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Posted 2.12.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Yes! And I feel like it’s so rare to find writers like that!

      Posted 2.12.16 Reply
  11. This is one of my favorite dystopian novels! So profound.

    Posted 2.13.16 Reply
  12. Oh man, Margaret Atwood is so good! This makes me want to read Handmaid’s Tale again.

    Posted 2.14.16 Reply
  13. Kerry M wrote:

    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!

    Posted 2.16.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      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.

      Posted 2.17.16 Reply
  14. Naomi wrote:

    Love this! Margaret Atwood is so quotable. Which one are you thinking of reading next? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Posted 2.17.16 Reply

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