AP Language and Composition (Grade 11)


The Handmaid’s Tale



Margaret Atwood



Dystopian Fiction



The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.  The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm façade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best (


Students should annotate and highlight the novel for social commentary (see annotation/highlighting guidelines).  In addition, students will complete an in-class timed write on this novel during the first marking period.


Complete the following for the first day of school:

  1. American essayist and social critic H. L. Mencken (1880–1956) wrote, “The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.” In a well-written essay, examine the extent to which Mencken’s observation applies to contemporary society, supporting your position with appropriate evidence from BOTH 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale. Your essay should not exceed 1-2 double-spaced pages (Times New Roman, 12-point font). Use proper MLA format, including parenthetical citations and a header.

  1. Please create a account using your email account, and register with your AP class. Class IDs and passwords can be found on your teacher’s OnCourse website. Submit your summer reading responses to by the first day of class.

Due First Day of School: Bring your book, annotations and notes with you to class.

Future Assignments: During the first unit, you will use your annotations during in-class discussions and writing assignments.