Page 27. " The car is a very expensive one, a Whirlwind; better than the Chariot, much better than the chunky, practical Behemoth. "

In this theocracy, even brands of car have been named in accordance with the Old Testament. Judging by the descriptions, these cars would perhaps have once been known as Chryslers, Buicks or Lincolns.

Vintage Chrysler
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeVintage Chrysler - Credit: Morven
Page 32. " There are no more magazines, no more films, no more substitutes "

No visual images of sexuality are available to the young men of the Republic of Gilead. Such restrictions actually came to pass under the Taliban in Afghanistan, where between 1996 and 2001 it was forbidden for women to be photographed or to appear in any form of media, be it on television, film and radio, or in newspapers and books.

Page 35. " They had a Humphrey Bogart festival, with Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn, women on their own, making up their minds. "

Humphrey Bogart was born into an upper-class family in New York in 1899. Wounded in service during World War One, he played romantic Broadway leads in the 1920s before going to Hollywood in the 1930s and slowly rising to prominence in a series of films that included High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. Latterly, he became an iconic figure – the lone wolf, a cynical, super-cool, unruffled man of integrity in a murky, amoral world. He died of throat cancer in 1957.

Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske, also in New York, in 1924. After being spotted by Howard Hawks on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1943, he chose her the following year to star opposite Bogart (who she later married) in To Have and Have Not. Still only 19, in that film she exhibited a dry, silky worldliness that belied her youth, famously asking Bogart in her husky voice, ‘You know how to whistle donth’cha Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.’ She is still acting.

Hepburn 1940
Public DomainHepburn 1940
Katherine Hepburn was born to intellectual, free-thinking parents in Connecticut in 1907. She swept into Hollywood in the early 1930s, famously handsome, trouser-wearing and bursting with self-confidence, earning herself the nickname ‘Katherine of Arrogance’. She pioneered the cinematic image of the female loner, the high-toned outsider making her own way in a man’s world, in films including Alice Adams and Sylvia Scarlett. She also proved to be an adept comedienne in Bringing up Baby. She conducted a near 30-year affair with Spencer Tracy, a married man and her frequent co-star. Nominated for 12 Oscars and winning four times, she died of Parkinson’s disease in 2003.

Page 35. " Milk and Honey "

This store is named in reference to Exodus 3:8, when Moses has a vision of the burning bush. ‘A land flowing with milk and honey’ refers to the natural abundance of the Promised Land, Israel. Given the nature of the Gileadean regime, ‘Promised Land’ is a cruelly ironic reference.  

Page 37. " All Flesh "

Similarly, this butcher’s shop appears to be a reference to the line ‘All flesh is grass’, indicating the fragility and impermanence of life. This too can be seen as ironic, given that the Bible promises all believers in God eternal life. Curiously, this line is from 1 Peter 1:24-25, which is in the New Testament (Gilead is run on Old Testament principles). Other shops Offred is sent to are Loaves and Fishes and Daily Bread, both New Testament references.

Page 39. " Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia "

Afghan women in chadras
Creative Commons AttributionAfghan women in chadras - Credit: Steve Evans
The Handmaids are reqiuired to wear a red, habit-like smock, and a white headdress which shields them from men's eyes. This anticipates, to an extent, the burqa (or chadri, which has no eye-slit but instead a fine mesh-weave or grille) later worn by Afghan women under the Taliban and still required of all Iranian women in public.

‘Modesty’ was one of the principles that the Taliban – a regime not unlike the Gileadean one – insisted the women of Afghanistan cultivate. To this end, they were required to wear the chadri, which covers the body from head to toe, rendering them ‘invisible’ to men (including relatives) and thus, it was thought, safe from being sexually desired.

Page 43. " evidence from a single woman is no longer admissible "

Another law later adopted by the Taliban. In Sharia Law, a woman’s testimony in court is worth only half that of a man (whether she is single or married).