Page 13. " felt skirted as I knew from pictures, later in mini-skirts, then pants, then in one earring, spiky green-streaked hair. "
Punk girl
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePunk girl - Credit: Juggzy Malone
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike1950s - Credit: rocket ship
The (as yet unnamed) heroine muses on the ghosts of girls from the 1950s through to the 1980s in the old high school gym now commandeered by the regime as a training school for Handmaids (the ‘Rachel and Leah Centre’). The freedoms they took for granted, now a thing of the past, are especially highlighted by the latter image of a punk, a style rooted in defiance and anti-femininity, a concept considered heretical in the new Republic.
Page 18. " measured by bells, as once in nunneries "
by cm
Public DomainCloisters - Credit: Doris Ulmann

"The lives of these women are segmented by bells, little friendly bells that prod them from one prayerful activity to the next... The bells also signify the structure of a nun's life. Prayer without distraction is though to be purer prayer. The bells are reminders, or breaks between the sentences of their days, like fresh paragraphs."

from What's Life Like for Nuns in a Cloister

Eight sets of prayers punctuate the nun's day (approximate times): Matins (2am), Lauds (5am), Prime (6am), Terce (9 am), Sext (noon), Nones (3 pm),Vespers (5pm), Compline (6pm)

Page 21. " Sororize, it would have to be, he said. "

This reference to patriarchy’s influence on language reminds us that although Gilead’s level of oppression is unparalleled in North America, it very much existed in other forms in ‘the time before’. The Republic is the logical conclusion of unchecked patriarchy, so it is perhaps fitting for such a world that ‘sororize’ does not exist as a word, as women are now pitted against each other and any form of true friendship between them is forbidden.


Page 24. " cigarettes must have come from the black market "

Underground economies tend to flourish in countries where corruption, strict regulation and monopolies have a stranglehold on economic goods or services. Likewise, war can swell the black market as restriction of resources needed for the war effort leads to rationing. For goods that take on extra lustre in times of hardship – tobacco, alcohol, drugs, desirable clothes and make-up – people are often willing to pay through the nose, hence the exorbitant prices that everyday items can fetch on the black market.