“ can we recognize windows to other worlds without some formal, historical, or theoretical understanding of what we are looking at? If we deepen our understanding



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AP English 12 Name:

Ms. Clark Date:


The Handmaid's Tale: Literary Research Essay
“...can we recognize windows to other worlds without some formal, historical, or theoretical understanding of what we are looking at? If we deepen our understanding, might we increase our chances of locating [moments of wonder]? How do we deepen our understanding? (Ghoulish, “Criticism”)

The Handmaid's Tale is a science fiction (speculative fiction) novel that deals with reading, writing, and language: the power of individual thought and knowledge. You are to use research to deepen your understanding of these concepts. Write a literary research essay that analyzes how these concepts work in the novel and the implications for society as a whole. (IE. So What?)
This essay combines the elements of an analytical literary essay in that you have to show your understanding of the text through close reading analysis. You are using research to emphasize and make concrete the theoretical. Length 1000-1500 words. MLA formatting required.
Some directions you may choose to explore are as follows:

  • theocracies in our world today (Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Somalia, Bountiful (FLDS) )

  • “freedom to, and freedom from” in The Handmaid's Tale and some of today's totalitarian regimes.

  • Oppression (of minority groups by a government ( e.g. Nazi Germany in the 30s & 40s) )

  • Science and its role in society (birth control, abortion)

  • other dystopias: nineteen-eighty-four, Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood, Brave New World

  • Sexuality and relationships


If the above suggestions do not lead to your own topic, the following concrete topics are available to you. You do however, need to discuss the concepts listed above.

1. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi's account of life in the Islamic Republic transcends national and geographical boundaries. Discuss how the experience of censorship, fundamentalism and human rights, as well as the enjoyment of works of imagination and the desire for individual freedom, may be similar in totalitarian societies and in democracies such as our own, and that of The Handmaid's Tale.


2. Examine the fictional vs. real religion-based theocracies. Describe the characteristics of a theocracy in the novel and compare it to one in existence in our world today. (Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Somalia, Bountiful [FLDS.])
3. Gather information about 17th century Puritanism, and try to find resemblances between Puritanism and life in the Republic of Gilead.
4. “The Bible is literature, not dogma.” (George Santayana, introduction to the ethics of Spinoza) See Penguin Thematic Dictionary of Quotations, p. 42. How would you interpret this quotation in relation to The Handmaid's Tale?
5. Do a background study of The Handmaid's Tale's allusions to the rise of the American Moral Majority (also called the New Puritans) in the 1980s. Gather information about this movement and relate it to the novel. What are the implications for modern society?
6. Is The Handmaid's Tale an anti-religious novel? What do you think does it warn against?


  1. Compare the dystopias in The Handmaid's Tale and nineteen eighty-four, Oryx and Crake, or Brave New World. What is the role of the individual in society? How are thought and language used as a repressive tool? What role does technology play in these societies?Issues of sexual repression could also be analysed, as well as the role of love in dystopias.




  1. Women and language and thought...explore.

Due Date: _______________________


Marks: 24 essay; 10 MLA formatting; 5 outline; 5 draft(s); 6 research.


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