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THE HANDMAID'S TALE

by: Margaret Atwood


There was old sex in the room, and loneliness, and expectation, of something without a shape or name. I remember that yearning, for something that was always about to happen and was never the same as the hands that were on us there and then, in the small of the back, or out back, in the parking lot, or in the television room with the sound turned down and only the pictures flickering over lifting flesh.

--Chapter 1

We learned to whisper almost without sound. In the semidarkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren't looking, and touch each other's hands across space. We learned to lipread, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other's mouths. In this way, we exchanged names, from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.

--Chapter 1

How I used to despise such talk. Now I long for it. At least it was talk. An exchange, of sorts.

--Chapter 1

I once had a garden. I can remember the smell of the turned earth, the plump shapes of bulbs held in the hands, fullness, the dry rustle of seeds through the fingers. Time could pass more swiftly that way. Sometimes the Commander's Wife has a chair brought out, and just sits in it, in her garden. From a distance it looks like peace.

--Chapter 1

Blessed be the fruit.

--Chapter 4

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.

--Chapter 5

Ordinary ... is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.

--Chapter 6

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. It gave us more freedom.

--Chapter 10

I don't want to look at something that determines me so completely.

--Chapter 12

I wait. I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech. What I must present is a made thing, not something born.

--Chapter 12

Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us dizzy.

--Chapter 22

Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn't really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.

--Chapter 23

There is something subversive about this garden of Serena's, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to say: Whatever is silenced will clamor to be heard, though silently.

--Chapter 25

Time has not stood still. It has washed over me, washed me away, as if I’m nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a careless child too near the water.

--Chapter 30

There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power. There's something delightful about it, something naughty, secretive, forbidden, thrilling. It's like a spell, of sorts. It deflates them, reduces them to the common denominator where they can be dealt.

--Chapter 34

Nature demands variety, for men. It stands to reason, it's part of the procreational strategy. It's Nature's plan.

--Chapter 37

There is something reassuring about the toilets. Bodily functions at least remain democratic. Everybody shits.

--Chapter 39

The crimes of others are a secret language among us. Through them we show ourselves what we might be capable of, after all.

--Chapter 42

Don't let the bastards grind you down. I repeat this to myself but it conveys nothing. You might as well say, Don't let there be air; or Don't be.

--Chapter 46

As all historians know, the past is a great darkness, and filled with echoes. Voices may reach us from it; 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 day.

--Chapter 46

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