The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale Glossary


An infertile woman who has been given a position of command over other women. She will not be sent to the Colonies or disposed of, and in exchange she must keep the Handmaids in line and assist with official duties such as births, Prayvaganzas, and Salvagings. Most likely the Aunts are "true believers" who had a certain amount of power before the regime.


Ambulance-like vans that pick up wives and Handmaids (separately) to go to the women in labor.

Bun-Dle Buggies

Never fully explained, bun-dle buggies seem to be some kind of moving vehicle that either distributes pornography or provides some kind of sexual service. They were outlawed soon after the suspension of the Constitution.


Mostly sites that need to be cleaned up in the wake of war, chemical spills, or other environmental upheavals. Colonies also supposedly include sites of plantations that were growing things like cotton and tobacco. Unwomen, men who tried to help women escape, unrepenting nuns, older women, etc. are sent there to work until they die.


Men who have the position of Commander in the army of Gilead. Only men of this or comparable status are allowed to take a wife and given Handmaids. These men have a great deal of power, but they are also very vulnerable to the loss of that power, for the regime tends to purge itself every few years.


After paper money was disposed of, people began making transactions using a compunumber that was assigned to them.


Men without power or money, but who had legal wives before the Gilead take-over, were allowed to keep their wives, but were not assigned Marthas or Handmaids. Thus, these women are called Econowives, because they must fill the function of all the other "kinds" of women.


A figure from Greek Mythology. Orpheus and Eurydice were passionately in love, but one day Eurydice was bitten by a serpent and died. Orpheus, son of the God of music and poetry, Apollo, went to the King of the Underworld, Hades, and begged for the return of his beloved. Hades' hard heart was touched, and he agreed to return Eurydice, but only if Orpheus could walk out of the underworld without once looking back to make sure Eurydice was with him. After walking for a long time, just as he was about to leave the cave that lead to the underworld, Orpheus looked back. He saw Eurydice just as she was snatched back below the earth.

Feels on Wheels

A truck that provided sexual acts for a fee and was outlawed soon after the suspension of the Constitution. The name is a pun on "Meals on Wheels", an organization that provides meals for the elderly and terminally ill.

Gender Traitor

A homosexual or lesbian. The punishment for gender traitors is death by hanging.

Guardian of the Faith

One of the armies of Gilead, but not as important or powerful as the Angels. The Guardians' jobs range from standing at checkpoints and helping the Wives dig their gardens, to keeping an eye on Commanders and their houses.


A woman with viable ovaries who pre-Gilead was either divorced, married to a man who had been divorced, or (presumably) had reached a certain age without ever marrying. The Handmaids are assigned to a Commander for a period of two years. If they conceive and give birth to a baby (rather than an un-baby), they will continue to serve as Handmaids until their term is up, but they will never be sent to the Colonies. After two years, a Handmaid is moved to a different house. After three houses, if the Handmaid had not had a child, she is sent to the Colonies or "shredded".


Universal identification cards used to move around Gilead. An identipass is necessary to move through a checkpoint.


An old-fashioned term for a woman who is regarded as evil or morally corrupt. It comes from an Old Testament story about a Phoenician Princess named Jezebel who encouraged idolatry.


A woman without viable ovaries who acts as a cook or general servant in the house of a Commander. Most were presumably in similar jobs before the regime.


Characteristic of a system where women or mothers are the head of the family group and the community.


A ceremony during which the Handmaids are encouraged to physically punish an enemy of the regime for alleged crimes against women.


Characteristic of a society in which men are generally the head of the family, community, and social groups.


Stores selling pornography, which were outlawed soon after the suspension of the Constitution.


Public ceremonies segregated by gender. Women's are usually for group marriages, men's for military victories.

Rachel and Leah Centers

Centers where women are re-educated to prepare them for being Handmaids.


Public executions, also segregated by gender. Particicutions also take place at women's Salvagings.

Save the Women Societies

Societies formed in other countries to try and help the women of Gilead. Probably similar in form and content to anti-slavery societies formed in other countries during the period before the American Civil War.

Sectarian Roundups

Government-sponsored purges of people belonging to religious groups other than that supported by the Gilead state.

Sons of Jacob Think Tanks

The groups that originally devised the general plan for Gilead, including how they would take over the government and how they would re-order society.

Soul Scrolls

Machines that write out prayers. They are automated, so people can call a number and punch in the number of a prayer and their compuaccount number, and purchase prayers that will be written out by the machines.


One of the activities at the Re-education Center. Testifying involves sharing misdeeds such as illicit sexual activities (including rape), abortions, etc. from previous lives while the Aunts lead the other women in a chant condemning the speaker. This activity is supposed to help Handmaids understand why they deserve - and are even lucky - to be in this position.

The Republic of Gilead

The name of the new country that stands in the place of what used to be the United States of America.

The Wall

The wall that used to circle part of Harvard University's main campus, and has now been converted to a site where bodies from the Salvagings are displayed.


A fetus born with severe abnormalities that do not allow it to survive.

Underground Femaleroad

Similar to the Underground Railroad from the abolition era, the Underground Femaleroad is a network of safe houses through which people attempt to smuggle women out of the country, usually into Canada.


A woman without viable ovaries who does not serve any useful purpose for society, and who is either sent to the Colonies or killed.