Frédéric Chopin. Best described as a ‘romantic reverie’, it featured a moonlit chorus of dancing sylphs dressed in white. The ‘poet’ wore black. It premiered in its complete form in Paris in 1909.
Serena Joy’s perfume (‘it’s the scent of prepubescent girls’ thinks Offred) is also the name of a Christian hymn, written by William Charles Fry in London for the Salvation Army. It is a gospel standard, and the connection is probably no coincidence.
The slopes are heavily forested and dominate the landscape of the Eastern seaboard. In the novel, they provide sanctuary for tribes of rebels.
The Religious Society of Friends, to give Quakers their proper title, is a Christian religious movement with a spectrum of independent organisations, all of which do not necessarily share the same beliefs and practices. Gilead is a Biblical monotheocracy, permitting no denominational subgroups. On top of that, Quakers have always championed the rights of women.
Ham is one of Noah’s sons. He travelled to Africa, becoming forefather of its nations. ‘Children of Ham’ is the Republic’s name for African-Americans. Supposedly, they are being ‘resettled’ in the National Homelands (Midwest).
The term "resettlement" was used by the Nazis as a euphemism for the transportation of Jews and other "undesirables" to the death camps of Poland. The Children of Ham may well face the same fate.
Rachel and Leah were sisters in the bible. Jacob fell in love with Rachel and intended to marry her. But a heavily-veiled Leah was substituted for Rachel at the wedding, as it was expected that the older sister marry first. Jacob later married Rachel as well.
Leah bore Jacob six sons and one daughter, but Rachel could not conceive. Instead, she offered Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah, as a surrogate. Bilhah gave birth to two sons. Leah then did the same thing, offering Jacob her maidservant Zilpah who bore two sons.
Rachel eventually gave birth to her own sons: Joseph and Benjamin.
The Beatitudes are the blessings proclaimed by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount. They list the spiritual and moral values that will enable people to enter the kingdom of heaven. They are recorded in the books of Matthew and Luke.
Offred notes that the aunts add their own (‘Blessed are the silent’).