Highlights from The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Cover of The Handmaid's Tale

Highlights from this book

  • How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability?

  • Waste not want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want?

  • 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.

  • These women are not divided into functions. They have to do everything; if they can.

  • I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will. I could use it to run, push buttons of one sort or another, make things happen. There were limits, but my body was nevertheless lithe, single, solid, one with me. Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I'm a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping.

  • I tell myself it doesn't matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter.

  • But this is wrong, nobody dies from lack of sex. It's lack of love we die from.

  • A man is just a woman's strategy for making other women.

  • It's impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavors, in the air or on the tongue, half-colors, too many.

  • But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.

  • Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it.

  • To want is to have a weakness.

  • I feel like cotton candy, sugar and air. Squeeze me and I'd turn into a small sickly damp wad of weeping pinky-red.

  • How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation.

  • A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.

  • That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn't even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn't even an enemy you could put your finger on.

  • You can't help what you feel, Moira once said, but you can help how you behave.

  • You might even provide a Heaven for them. We need You for that. Hell we can make for ourselves.

  • Who can tell what they really are? Under their daily-ness.

  • Working out was also something you did to keep your body in shape, for the man. If you worked out enough, maybe the man would too.

  • We were revisionists; what we revised was ourselves.

  • I don't want her to be like me. Give in, go along, save her skin. That is what it comes down to. I want gallantry from her, swashbuckling, heroism, single-handed combat. Something I lack.

  • I can't quite believe it. Surely her cockiness, her optimism and energy, her pizzazz, will get her out of this. She will think of something. But I know this isn't true. It is just passing the buck, as children do, to mothers.

  • I remind myself that he is not an unkind man; that, under other circumstances, I even like him.

  • I wish this story were different. I wish it were more civilized. I wish it showed me in a better light, if not happier, then at least more active, less hesitant, less distracted by trivia. I wish it had more shape. I wish it were about love, or about sudden realizations important to one's life, or even about sunsets, birds, rainstorms, or snow. Maybe it is about those things, in a way; but in the meantime there is so much else getting in the way, so much whispering, so much speculation about others, so much gossip that cannot be verified, so many unsaid words, so much creeping about and secrecy. And there is so much time to be endured, time heavy as fried food or thick fog; and then all at once these red events, like explosions, on streets otherwise decorous and matronly and somnambulent.