Why teach The Handmaid’s Tale?

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the great dystopian novels of the 20th century, but some argue that it is a novel of the 20th century, now dated and with limited applicability in contemporary classrooms.

Upon picking up the book, however, the reader is quickly struck with and disturbed by the extent to which many of its themes are contemporary and perennial. Treated as a thought experiment created by Atwood, the novel can be used to press students to think harder about the issues facing both Canada and the world today.

The treatment of women in the religious state of Gilead is mirrored in many ways both in oppressive regimes in the world today, such as the area controlled by ISIS in the Middle East, but they also mirror Western history in many ways. Students are encouraged to examine thoughts and policies that exist in Canada in the early 21st century and ask just how much Margaret Atwood had to imagine things going to get her dystopian vision.

Questions about social change, political awareness, and our moral obligation, and propensity, to help one another are also fertile ground for discussion through the course of this book.

Curriculum Connections

Intermediate/Senior Level English

Intermediate/Senior Level History

Senior Level Canadian & International Law

Senior Level Challenge & Change in Society

Senior Level Canadian & World Issues


The Handmaid’s Tale Study Guide


Exercise Sheets

Chapter 1-7 Exercises
Chapter 8-13 Exercises
Chapter 14-20 Exercises
Chapter 21-25 Exercises
Chapter 26-30 Exercises
Chapter 31-36 Exercises
Chapter 37-40 Exercises
Chapter 41-42 and Historical Notes Exercises

Coming soon:
Once the Hulu Original Series is released in April, we’ll add some questions designed to catch students who are trying to learn through watching the show rather than reading the book.


Supplementary Resources

Chapter 1-7

CDC – Young women should avoid alcohol unless using birth control

The Globe and Mail_ Telling women of reproductive age not to drink is fear mongering

Freedom Portrait: women escape ISIS

Website: My Stealthy Freedom

Visit the Fahrenheit 451 resources page for resources on book burning.


Chapter 8-13

Kozicka – School dress codes: Discriminatory or necessary?

Herskovitz -Texas eyes ‘women’s privacy act’ that critics say targets transgender people

The Atlantic – Fathers of Chinese Leaders at Revolutionary ‘Struggle Sessions’

Photos of Struggle Sessions

Cultural Revolution Workbook


Chapter 14-20

Quakers and the Underground Railroad- Myths and Reality

Khan Academy: An Introduction to the Protestant Reformation (refer to section, Scripture Alone)

Patient.info – Ventricular Septal Defect (Hole in the Heart)


Chapter 21-25

I walked 2,000km to trace my grandfather’s escape from a Russian gulag

Video: Park Yeon-mi: North Korea’s Black Market Generation


Chapter 26-30

Khan Academy: An Introduction to the Protestant Reformation (refer to section, Indulgences)


Chapter 31-36

Yeon-mi Park – The hopes of North Koreas Black Market Generation


Chapter 37-40

Vox Video: Transparen-She

Zanetti – I created the burkini to give women freedom, not to take it away


Chapter 41- Historical Notes

Bromwich – Lawyers Mobilize at Nation’s Airports After Trump’s Order

Excerpt from CHAPTER VII, Narrative on the Life of Frederick Douglass

Full Text: Narrative on the Life of Frederick Douglass (autobiography)


Additional resources on the American Underground Railroad and Canada’s role in ending slavery can be found in the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Study Guide.