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The Handmaid's Tale

Main Ideas

Metaphors and Similes

Main Ideas Metaphors and Similes

Chapter 2

I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolor of blue irises, and why the window only opens partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.

By comparing the different methods of suicide to “escapes” in this metaphor, Offred succinctly explains how runaway handmaids don’t pose a threat to Gilead because they’ll be easily caught, but a handmaid’s death poses a terrifying threat to the whole endeavor.

Chapter 4

Not all of you will make it through. Some of you will fall on dry ground or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted. . . think of yourselves as seeds. . .

In this metaphor, Offred relates the comparison the Aunts made between the handmaidens and seeds, evoking the biblical parable about the sower of the seeds, and how those seeds would fare in different soils.

She walks demurely, head down, red-gloved hands clasped in front, with short little steps like a trained pig’s, on its hind legs.

This description of Offred’s shopping partner, Ofglen, likens her prim walk to the mincing steps of a trained pig walking on its hind legs, an allusion to the end of another dystopia, George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Chapter 5

Now that she’s the carrier of life, she is closer to death, and needs special security. Jealousy could get her, it’s happened before.

This metaphor reduces the pregnant handmaid to a mere object that carries life, and warns that others’ jealousy endangers her, which is why she is flanked by extra guards.

They wear lipstick, red, outlining the damp cavities of their mouths, like scrawls on a washroom wall, of the time before.

In this simile, Offred compares the red slash of lipstick worn by the Japanese tourists to the writing that might be found in a public women’s restroom before the war: secretive, bold, and possibly inappropriate.

To be seen—to be seen—is to be—[Aunt Lydia’s] voice trembled—penetrated.

This powerful metaphor compares seeing a woman’s body to raping her, and explains why the Handmaids’ costumes purposefully obstruct their faces.

Chapter 14

I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I’ll come back to dig up, one day. I think of the name as buried. This name has an aura around it, like an amulet, some charm that’s survived from an unimaginably distant past. 

In this extended simile, Offred explains how she tries to liken her birth name to a telephone number, an inconsequential tool she once gave to others to reach her, but she cannot maintain that dismissive comparison. Instead, Offred concludes that her given name is more like a buried treasure, precious and powerful. 

Chapter 17

We are containers; it’s only the inside of our bodies that are important. The outside can become hard and wrinkled, for all they care. . . 

This metaphor expands upon the recurrent theme of the Handmaids’ essential and demeaning role as incubators. It does not matter what the Handmaids look like on the outside so long as they are fertile. 

Chapter 18

I am like a room where things once happened and now nothing does, except the pollen of the weeds that grow up outside the window, blowing in as dust across the floor. 

As she reflects on her brief encounter with Nick, Offred remembers making love to her husband while pregnant with their daughter, and in this simile compares her body, so long untouched with anything like affection, to a vacant room that was once busy but is now only visited by dust. 

Chapter 30

It was like being in an elevator cut loose at the top. Falling, falling, and not knowing when you will hit. 

In this simile, Offred remembers when she and her family tried to escape across the Canadian border but were caught. She uses this simile to compare this moment of betrayal to the freefalling terror of being in an elevator whose cable has been cut at the top, plummeting down, and not knowing when the terror will end.