Margaret Atwood began writing The Handmaid’s Tale while living in in West Berlin in 1984. The Berlin Wall was still standing then, and the culture of that society can be felt throughout the novel.

But as Atwood herself wrote: ‘It can’t happen here could not be depended upon: anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.’

Walls come down and new ones – literal or otherwise – go up, and there are loud echoes of today’s world in the novel, too. All of which makes these 9 quotes from the book just as fresh and relevant today as they were in the 1980s.

1.    ‘Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.’

2.    ‘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.’

handmaids tale scene

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3.    ‘Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse, for some.’

4.     'He was not a monster, to her. Probably he had some endearing trait: he whistled, offkey, in the shower, he had a yen for truffles, he called his dog Liebchen and made it sit up for little pieces of raw steak. How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation.’
 

handmaids tale scene

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5.    ‘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 . . . 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.’

6. ‘That was one of the things they do. They force you to kill, within yourself.’
 

handmaids tale scene

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7.    ‘Freedom, like everything else, is relative.’

8.    ‘The problem wasn’t only with the women, he says. The main problem was with the men. . . You know what they were complaining about the most? Inability to feel. . . Do they feel now? I say. Yes, he says, looking at me. They do.’
 

handmaids tale scene

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9.    ‘You can't help what you feel but you can help how you behave.’

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    The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.

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  • The Testaments

    The Handmaid’s Tale

  • ** LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019 **

    In this brilliant sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, acclaimed author Margaret Atwood answers the questions that have tantalised readers for decades. Pre-order today.

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