!!For the Book
* {{Anvilicious}}: Religious fundamentalism can be just as oppressive as other forms of tyranny, and women deserve to be treated as equals.
* FridgeLogic: The majority of the men in this society are a) armed and b) do not expect to have a chance at a woman -- read: any legal sexual outlet whatsoever -- unless they're really, really lucky because those government-run brothels are only for the high-ranking members of the government and foreign officials. Gilead shouldn't have lasted seven weeks, let alone seven years.
** It's mentioned that some soldiers are hanged for "gender treachery" (i.e. turning to homosexual sex, probably due to this), but that just means a revolt should have been ''even likelier.''
** In addition, there's never any hint of action from the rest of the world regarding this- considering that any non-white, non-male, non-... whatever denomination of Christianity Gilead practices individual is either persecuted or executed, there must be some outcry from the rest of the world. At the very least, the UN would be giving the Republic of Gilead major sanctions for human rights violations. In the TV adaptation, Commander Waterford does mention sanctions against Gilead by the European Union.
*** The fourth episode mentions the UN discussing sanctions as well.
*** The pilot explicitly mentions lower status men being assigned wives and more to the point, the show jetisons the white supremacist element of the series, meaning that the supply of women of all races are presumably available to the men of Gilead so there is no real shortage; whereas in the books, where minority women were either killed off or exiled.
** Fridge Logic is easily explained by having an Unrealiable Narrator and the fact that it's highly implied throughout the book that the Republic is lying about almost everything to maintain some sort of semblance of function.
** Odds are good that there's a ''lot'' of unreported rape and harassment of Marthas going on, that the Marthas don't report because they know they'd be blamed for their own assaults.
*** There's also the FridgeBrilliance that this isn't a functional society but a Nazi-esque reactionary one, that we eventually learn blows up within a generation. It still doesn't mean there's not a massive amount of pain, horror, and anger before it collapses. FascistButInefficient indeed.
* HarsherInHindsight: ''The Handmaid's Tale'' was, of course, written as an incredibly {{Anvilicious}} social commentary on Christian fundamentalism. But the horrible thing is that there ''are'' real-life political figures of some influence who ''actually'' advocate things far too close to Gilead for comfort--As latterly proved by William S. Lind, advisor and speechwriter to presidential candidate Gary Hart, originator of the "Cultural Marxism" meme, and later a major "Alt-Right" figure who has been seen with Donald Trump. In 2014, he published ''Literature/{{Victoria}}'', a manifesto-''cum''-survivalist novel which seems almost to be cribbing details of its plot right out of Atwood's story: From the entire US Government killed in a suspicious-looking terrorist attack and far-right militiamen taking over to liberal professors massacred, traditional dress codes enforced, women banned from the public sphere and feminists literally re-educated and enslaved as punishment for their sins. Unlike Atwood, however, Lind considers the resulting society [[ValuesDissonance a desirable utopia]], and consequently portrays the fundamentalist militiamen as unadulterated heroes, with their victims vile villains who deserve all they get and more. It's even down to really specific details-he, like Gilead, supports death by hanging. On the flipside, women have recently started to {{cosplay}} as Handmaids [[http://culturess.com/2017/03/21/cosplay-protest-women-dressed-handmaids-took-texas-senate/ as political protest]].
** Not to mention that, though Atwood focuses on Christian fundamentalism, the themes ''have already happened'' for women in some countries such as Iran, which regressed from its more liberal ideas decades ago when taken over by religious (Muslim) fundamentalists. See NightmareFuel below.
* NightmareFuel:
** A snippet from the book.
--->"But WHOSE fault was it?"\\
"Her fault. Her fault. Her fault."\\
"WHO led them on?"\\
"She did. She did. She did."\\
"And why would God allow such a terrible thing to happen?"\\
"Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson."
*** Now factor this in: they were talking about ''a 14-year old girl being gang-raped.''
** The Colonies. You ''really'' don't want to be [[AFateWorseThanDeath sent there]]. [[spoiler: They're used for cleaning up nuclear waste until they die from the radiation poisoning. It's basically gulags. At one point Moira tells Offred that her mother ended up there (she saw her in a propaganda video) and when Offred expresses relief since she thought her mother was dead, Moira simply says "She might as well be. You should wish it for her." Also hinted is that "the Children of Ham" (black people), who are supposedly sent to "national homelands" (a la South Africa) may in fact be suffering extermination]].
*** While we learn the (possible) fates of the black and Jewish populations, there is no mention of other ethnic or religious groups. What about the Asian, Middle Eastern, First Nation, etc, groups? We don't know, but we can imagine that it was ''horrifying''.
** The whole concept of being a Handmaid. You're forcibly indoctrinated (including such charming little exercises as the one shown above) and then passed around the upper echelons of the military as a brood mare. Your very name is taken away from you, to be replaced with the designation of whatever man currently owns you, e.g. Offred, Ofwayne. You're blamed if you're not fertile, even though it's most likely the ''men'' who own and use you that are sterile, and the Wives resent or even hate you regardless. If you don't manage to get pregnant with three successive households, you're declared defective and packed off to the colonies to die of radiation poisoning or slave labor. If you ''do'' actually manage to get pregnant ''and'' carry the child to term, it's removed from you except for feeding times and, as soon as it's weaned, you're bundled off to ''another'' family to start the whole miserable process all over again. And while you're given a sop of never being sent to the colonies if you bear a live, healthy baby, there's always the possibility that the baby's a "shredder", born with a mental or physical defect that only appears later. ''You will never be safe.''
** Particicution, where the women vent their frustrations on male "criminals" (in one case a political dissenter) by ripping him to pieces with their bare hands. During that scene in the book, Janine, who's had at least two "shredder" babies, finally loses her shit and wanders around with a bloody chunk of the person's scalp in her hand and a vacant grin on her face.
*** The epilogue theorizes that Gileadean society came up with the custom of Particicution not just to get rid of unwanted elements (they had the Wall for that), but ''expressly'' to provide a stress outlet for otherwise terribly oppressed Handmaids, to the point where instead of just having one in the rare case the occasion arose, after a while they started to hold them on every equinox and solstice, that is 4 times a year.
** In the beginning of the film, there were women ruled as infertile being led into trucks and cells previously used for livestock (one soldier just crossed out the "Livestock" and wrote "116" and the Female Biological Symbol). There was one woman screaming "you made a mistake!" and the screams made it all the more jarring.
** Offred doesn't know what happened to [[AdultFear her husband and her daughter]], especially considering that before the rise of Gilead, the reader learns that a crazy woman tried to take Offred's baby daughter from Offred's shopping cart when Offred had her back turned to get something off the shelves. ''Yikes''.
** The fact that the entire premise -- a takeover by religious fundamentalists, the utter loss of rights for women -- ''is inspired by true events.'' Iran had been developing into a secular country over the 20th century, but in the 1970s made a complete turnaround. Since then Iranian women have had to live under a barrage of restrictions, including laws about how they dress, though thankfully they still have access to education.
* ScifiGhetto: Margaret Atwood [[InsistentTerminology insists]] the book is SpeculativeFiction, but not ScienceFiction. "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen." [[HilariousInHindsight The book won the first Arthur C. Clarke award in 1987.]]
** There are signs that Atwood's mellowed since then and the book is taught in University literature courses at least in Canada, France and the Netherlands.
* ValuesDissonance: While there's nothing odd in the 20th and 21st centuries about portraying a woman pursuing her own desires by sleeping with a married man as positive (though it [[TheUnfairSex is not without]] [[GoodAdulteryBadAdultery its own negative implications]]), it's not common for feminist works not to condemn a man who cheats on his wife or partner; as June is the narrator of the story, the text naturally has nothing negative to say about Luke's treatment of his first wife, thus portraying cheating on a woman as perfectly acceptable.
!!For the Series
* CrowningMomentOfHeartwarming:
** [[spoiler: In the tv series June and Moira manage to escape the reeducation centre and get to an underground station, trying to get to Boston -- but June, as a solitary Handmaid, is quickly cornered by soldiers. She nods and smiles to Moira as a sign to get on the train and escape.]]
** After June is [[spoiler: maimed for her escape attempt, the Handmaids at the centre each give her a piece of food they saved during lunch.]]
** The Handmaids all gathering around a sobbing Janine after her newborn has been handed to the arms of the Wife in charge.
* MoodWhiplash:
** A more meta example while watching the series. The ads for women's clothing and alcohol are a real whiplash after watching the show.
** The pattern of episodes ending with upbeat music, that's usually chosen to be ironic in a very on-the-nose way, has had mixed reception from critics due to inducing this.
* {{Narm}}: The advertisements for the series have often used quotes calling the series and book "eerily relevant" and "more timely than ever", heavily implying they're referring to the election of the highly controversial Donald Trump. Given that the series is about an extremist misogynistic government turning women into ''breeding slaves'', this struck a lot of people [[RuleOfCautiousEditingJudgment with all sorts of different opinions about the Trump Administration]] as being ''hilariously'' melodramatic and absurd.
* SheReallyCanAct: Even die hard GilmoreGirls fans have been critical of AlexisBledel's portrayal of Rory Gilmore and her acting in general. Her performance as Ofglen in ''TheHandmaidsTale'' however has been universally praised.
* NarmCharm: The slow-motion walk of Offred and the other Handmaid's at the end of "Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum" as Offred internally declares, "We are handmaids". Self-affirming while also cheesy.
* TearJerker: Plenty
** Janine watching her daughter get ceremonially handed to the Wife, knowing that this is as far as she'll be involved in her child's life, aside from nursing.
** The manner in which the children of Gilead are revealed to the Ambassador for show and the Handmaids, many of them mothers, trying very hard not to look for their children's faces. [[spoiler: Knowing that the Handmaids could get trafficked to other countries adds to the horror as it appears the Handmaids were trying to get last glimpses of their children.]]
** The American flag in Little America having blank stars representing the states currently occupied by Gilead, and filled white stars representing the remaining free states in the union.