"We are for breeding purposes: we aren't concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or by us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices."
Sometime in the future, most women have become infertile and it has become the duty of the women who are still fertile to bear children for the elite. The Handmaids' duty is to become impregnated by the Commanders during ceremonies that also involve the Commander's wives. All passion and love is absent from these liasons. Even when women become pregnant, there is a very real risk, because of environmental hazards, that the child will be born deformed in some way, an Unbaby.
"Women took medicines, pills, men sprayed trees, cows ate grass, all that souped-up piss flowed into the rivers. Not to mention the exploding atomic power plants, along the San Andreas fault, nobody's fault, during the earthquakes, and the mutant strain of syphillis no mold could touch."
A birth is such an important part of life that all of the Handmaids in an area attend to assist with the birth and all of the Commander's Wives attend to support the Wife whose Handmaid is having the baby. They even pretend that the woman is actually the one in labor. The whole thing was so cold.
We learned that our narrator is Offred. All of the Handmaids are named as if they are the property of their Commander, which, of course, they are. To the extent that when the Commander asks Offred to come to his office, a forbidden place, she goes even though she knows he will not support her if she is caught. But it begins to give her an opening to ask for a favor or make her escape. I'm eager to see where this will lead.
In our conversations about this book, one of the things that we've talked about it "freedom from." In the society in this book, residents are largely free from decision and, for the most part risk. Offred and the other women are able to walk down the street and feel entirely safe, free from worry. But is this kind of freedom women want?