A New Beginning


So let’s talk about that ending…what!!! Offred is forced into the black van for either treason or she is being smuggled to safety. We will never know :/ However, Nick does call her by her real name and tells her to trust him. This could mean that he really has helped her to get out, or he really is the Eye that Ofglen was telling her about and he snitched her out for being a traitor.

“Whether this is my end or a new beginning I have no way of knowing…”

Of course, I want Offred to be able to see Luke and their daughter again, but I feel like her death would be inevitable anyway. I only say this because Offred is such a rebel, and I’m sure she’d find trouble soon enough 🙂

The ending shows great significance of what it looks like if women do not obey the rules in Gilead. If they do not abide, they are removed- killed. But there is always hope. I can hope that Nick was honest and that it truly was Mayday that picked up Offered, but the sad truth is that we will never know.

My thoughts on the novel are this: genius. Margaret Atwood does a wonderful job at never sugar coating or watering down this novel. It is filled with so much that I feel as if I’d need to read it again to truly grasp it all. My favorite part about this novel is how much it has opened my eyes to how some people may see Christianity or the Bible. It has challenged me to continue to have an open mind because there are always new things to learn.

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Household

“Household: that is what we are. The Commander is the head of the household. The house is what he holds. To have and to hold, till death do us part.”

The significance of this should not be overlooked. Offred explains the role of the Commander, or men, in this society. They have all power, and women are nothing more than something to be taken care of. A burden. The man holds this society together. She uses marriage vows to further describe that death is the only way out from this.

“Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.” Genesis 1:28

“Give me children, or else I die. Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear upon my knees, that I  may also have children by her.” Genesis 30:1-3

These scriptures are the foundation of the Handmaid’s existence. They live only to contribute to society, a vessel to provide what is wanted for the Commander and his wife. The society forces this into their head and justifies it because it is in the Bible. These passages from the Bible are recited to the women, making what they do to them not morally wrong. It makes it okay because it is in the Word of God. This is such a twisted way of thinking. Not everything in the Bible is to be continued or celebrated but rather to learn from. The people in the Bible were human and also made mistakes. Not everything is meant to be taken literally, and this novel highlights how words can be manipulated and interpreted in ways to benefit someone else.

The ceremony is a visual representation of what being a Handmaid is about: being a body. There is no relationship and no emotion involved; it is a very impersonal act of fulfilling her duty. However, it is not just Offred who is fulfilling her duty. It is also the Commander’s duty to provide children for Gilead.

“I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing.”

“It has nothing to do with passion or love or romance or any of those other notions we used to titillate ourselves with.”

Offred shows her sympathetic character when she thinks about Serena Joy during this moment. She has to lie between Serena’s legs as the Commander has sex with her. “Which of us is it worse for, her or me?” With everything that Offred has to suffer through, it’s amazing that she still thinks of Serena in this situation. She is suffering too. She is constantly reminded of her inadequacy each time she sees Offred. Offered is there because she is not physically able to do what is expected of women. Her worth dwindles under the circumstance of something she cannot control.

Behind the Curtains of Gilead

In these next few chapters, many details have clarified the Handmaids’ role in the novel. Serena’s hatred of Offred, the Handmaids’ obsession with fertility, references to declining birth rates, and the doctor visits all indirectly suggest that Handmaids live to bear children to their Commanders. Outlawed actions go on behind the curtains of Gilead.

Chapter 7

    Even though Offred has forgotten a large portion of her life because of an injection or a pill they forced upon her, she still lies awake at night holding tight to the memories she has left. The night is her own time to recall on her former life. During this time she remembers her college friend, Moria, and the times they shared together. Offred also remembers buring pornographic magazines with her mother in a park as a child. She tells us her story about waking up and screaming for her daughter. They took her; this is a mother’s worst nightmare.

“If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.”

She longs for her old life. She lies awake at night, with hope and faith, that there will come a day where everything will be restored to her again. I want to believe this will be a happy ending. I want to believe one day she will see her husband and daughter again. But I am just so unsure on what is to come.

Chapter 8

    Returning from another walk, Offred and Ofglen go past the Wall. A priest and two Guardians with placards around their necks that read “Gender Treachery” are hanging there. This implies they were engaging in homosexual acts, which is against their law. Remember what Offred said in previous chapters, though. They are not allowed to have interactions with the women. Hmm. At this point, we notice how annoyed Offred really gets with Ofglen. She says that she cannot tell whether Ofglen is “mourning or gloating.” She’s the one who has to tell her it’s time to go because she knows she would stay there all day. We can tell that she resents her “meekness.” Or is it really so? Maybe she is just pretending, putting on a front.

    On their way back, they walk past a funeral of Econowives, the wives of poorer men. “Some day, when times improve, says Aunt Lydia, no one will have to be an Econowife.” The mother is carrying a small black jar; it contains the baby she miscarried, too young to be put into a box. Offred tells us that the Econowives do not like the Handmaids. I mean, it makes sense though. I’m sure they’re treated better than them, living in the Commander’s house and all that comes along with it. One of the wives scowl at them and the other spits on the sidewalk as they cross paths.

    Offred returns home, and Nick asks her about her walk. Why does he keep speaking to her? Does he have a motive or is he genuinely engaging in conversation even though he knows he’s forbidden to? “All flesh is weak.” Offred is reminded of Aunt Lydia saying this to her.

“It’s up to you to set the boundaries. Later you will be thanked.”

Okay, what?? She’s telling her that women are responsible for these actions because “God made them that way but He did not make you that way.” This is sickening to me! I hate the way they have programmed them to think.

    Offred recalls how Serena Joy became a spokesperson for respecting “the sanctity of the home” and for women staying at home instead of working. Ironically, she was never home because she was always out giving speeches. Now, “she has become speechless.” At one point, someone tried to assassinate her but killed her secretary instead. She must’ve been a big deal. Offred wonders if Serena is angry now that what she advocated for is their reality. All women are confined to a home, including her. Did she get what she wanted?

    This chapter ends on a cliffhanger, leaving me eager to continue on. There is someone standing by Offred’s room. A man…

It’s the Commander. When he hears her coming, he turns and hesitates. Then he walks forward toward her. Offred is left not knowing what to do. She realizes the importance of this situation, but she doesn’t know what it means. He eventually leaves, and she ponders on it. “He is violating custom.” I honestly don’t know what to think about this. Is he favoring her? Hopefully, we find out.

Chapter 9

    In this chapter we find out some juicy news about Offred! Of course we know she isn’t a saint, but when I find this out I was shook. She reveals that when she first met Luke they were having an affair; Luke was married at the time. She reflects on the hotel rooms they would share together and how she regrets not appreciating the freedom she had. I’ve learned she regrets a lot. It’s mainly because she is given so much time to think; thinking can overwhelm us. It can consume us.

“How were we to know we were happy?”

    She remembers examining the room in the Commander’s house when she first arrived. She divided the room into sections to review one at a time. She did not want to waste them like she did the hotel rooms. She saw stains on the mattress, and she discovered a Latin phrase scratched into the floor of the closet. “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.” I’ve done my research, and, according to Vanity Fair, “it’s a made up phrase in mock Latin.” “If it were a real phrase, it would roughly translate to ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down.’” This is pretty cool to me. Even though they are forbidden to read or write, the woman before Offred didn’t care. She wrote this for the next woman to see. I enjoy the rebelliousness. It excites me. This pleases Offred to know someone wrote it with intention for her to find it.

Chapter 10

    Summer is approaching, and the Handmaids will be allowed to wear their summer dresses. Offred thinks of Aunt Lydia scrutinizing women in their former lives. She talks about the terrible “things” happening to them. “Oiling themselves like roast meat… bare backs and shoulders, on the street, in public, and legs, not even stockings on them, no wonder those things used to happen.” I’m really not sure what she’s implying here, but, honestly, I’m a little offended. She sounds like a great grandma criticising modern teenagers for what they choose to wear nowadays. Aunt Lydia is really starting to rub me the wrong way. Offred always referencing her shows how much of an influence she has, though.

Chapter 11

    This chapter is wiiiiild. Up to this point, all rules and laws have been followed. Not in this chapter. Finally something that draws my attention! Offred goes to the doctor once a month, so she tells us the story of what happened yesterday. She’s always tested for pregnancy and disease. After she arrives, she undresses in the doctor’s office, pulling a sheet over her head to cover her face. This is sorta ridiculous to me… like is this necessary? As the doctor comes in, he’s very cheerful and calls her “honey.” As he is doing his regular inspection, he suddenly whispers to her that he can help her. Many of the Commanders are too old or sterile, unable to produce a child. He suggests having sex with her to get her pregnant. “‘I hate to see what they put you through,’ he murmurs. It’s genuine, genuine sympathy; and yet he’s enjoying this, sympathy and all. His eyes are moist with compassion, his hand is moving on me, nervously and with impatience.” Ok, wow. This says it all. I want to believe it truly is genuine, but there is something that tells me this isn’t good. She declines after thinking about it. It’s too much of a risk.

“It’s the choice that terrifies me. A way out, a salvation.”

Chapter 13

In this chapter, we are introduced to the horrid tragedy of Testifying. Offred tells of a memory during Testifying in front of Aunt Helena and Aunt Lydia; Janine testifies about being raped and having an abortion at fourteen.

 

“But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger. Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison. Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us. She did. She did. She did. Why did God allow such terrible things to happen? Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson.”

 

They continued to mock and despise her: “Crybaby. Crybaby. Crybaby.” Offred expresses that she is ashamed of this. Aunt Lydia tells Janine that she is an example. Personally, this was very difficult for me to read. First, I firmly believe that no victim of rape is at fault. No matter the circumstance, to say that someone who was raped is responsible goes against everything I believe. Second, I do not believe that God allows terrible things to happen to us to “teach us a lesson.” Personally, I believe that He gives us freedom to make our own decisions, and because we are human, we make mistakes that often dramatically affect those around us. Often times, we are unwillingly involved in the poor decisions of others. This is not because God wants to punish us. This happens because of our own decisions; however, God can take those situations and turn them for good. This book challenges me to remind myself what I truly believe. Sadly, the Handmaids are not given a choice, and they cannot outwardly believe what they want. Everything is forced, even their way of thinking.

 

Moving from that topic, Offred goes into the bathroom and fearfully watches for blood. “For when it comes it means failure.” “I am a cloud, congealed around a central object.” She realizes her worth to them. She is used. I can’t imagine the torment this brings to her mentally. Her life is worth so much more.

 

Ordinary– Chapters 2-6

    As chapter 2 begins, Offred explains the making of her bedroom. She indirectly states how they have removed anything that could potentially contribute to suicide or be a weapon. The words and phrases such as “they allowed,” “defines us,” and “thoughts must be rationed” emphasize the control and restrictions.

  1. No glass
  2. Window doesn’t open completely
  3. Windowpane is shatterproof
  4. Removed anything that can hang a rope
  5. Door does not shut completely or lock

Aunt Lydia describes it as “being in the army;” she should see it “not (as) a prison but as a privilege.”

What?? Brainwashed much?

Offred explains that Handmaids dress entirely in red with white wings framing their faces. Marthas wear green. Wives wear blue. This defines them.

    Offred secretly wishes she could talk to Rita and Cora, but they are forbidden to engage in relationships with each other. So, instead, she often listens in on their conversations. I don’t blame her; a girl needs some company.

    Offred has to go shopping for the house. She collects tokens from Rita, which is their currency. Like many things, reading is forbidden, so there are images on the coins: 12 eggs, cheese, and steak.

Chapter 3

    As Offred begins to explain the rigid, controlling structure of their society, she often narrates gradually through flashbacks that tell about her past.

Offred looks back on when she was sent to the Commander’s house because the two other men she was previously assigned to didn’t work out. She arrived at the house with hopes that the Commander’s wife would be different, but, on the first day, she told her to stay out of sight.

“I am a reproach to her; and a necessity.”

We begin to see the rebellious personality of Offred when she notices the Commander’s wife smoking a cigarette. She states that they are forbidden for women to have along with coffee and alcohol. However, this gives her hope because it assures her that there is a black market, meaning there is always a way around the order of things.

As this chapter comes to an end, Offred finally recognizes the Wife’s familiar face- Serena Joy. She was the lead soprano from Growing Souls Gospel Hour, a Sunday morning religious program. Isn’t she such a growing soul, though? The irony.

“So it was worse than I thought,” Offred exclaims.

Chapter 4

    As Offred leaves the house to shop, Nick, a Guardian of the Faith, winks at her. In fear, she ignores him because she thinks he may be an Eye. Eyes are spies assigned to test them. She waits on her partner, Ofglen, because each Handmaid must have a partner when walking. When she arrives, they do their usual, orthodox greetings. They say no more than this.

“The truth is that she is my spy, as I am hers; … the other will be accountable.”

    Although Offred tells us that Ofglen has only been here for two weeks, she does not tell us what happened to her other partner. She claims she doesn’t know. Maybe she does know, but she does not want to remember it.

    There are Guardians that play the role of keeping them “safe.” However, young Guardians can be dangerous because they are “fanatical” and jumpy with their guns. Just a week ago, they shot a woman who was fumbling through her robe for her pass. .They took the wrong idea of thinking she was looking for a bomb and shot her without hesitation. Perhaps something similar might have happened to Offred’s ex partner. Offred hears Cora and Rita speaking about the situation.

“Doing their job, said Cora. Keeping us safe.”

Rita speaks out in anger, making it directly known that she did not agree. Cora refers to it as an accident. Rita states that “everything is meant.”

Indeed it is.

    Back to reality. Offred flirts with the Guardians at checkpoint. He looks into her eyes and blushes. She thinks of placing her hand on his face.


“It’s an event, a small defiance of rule, so small as to be undetectable, but such moments are the rewards I hold out for myself, like the candy I hoarded, as a child, at the back of the drawer. Such moments are possibilities, tiny peepholes.”

    This is one thing I’ve really started to pick up and like about Offred. She’s very intuitive, and, yes, she has an agenda. I don’t know what her plan is yet, but I know in the back of my mind she has one. She considers how much they must desire to have a Handmaid of their own. They aren’t permitted to touch a woman, so they must touch with their eyes instead. Offred teases them by swaying her hips as she walks away. Girl knows what she is doing! She immediately says she’s ashamed for doing it. However, she quickly takes back that statement and says she actually isn’t ashamed because she enjoys the power. This is all women have. Her body is her power because pornographic magazines and films are forbidden. “They have no outlets now.” She knows they will suffer.


Chapter 5

    Offred glances back on the pre-Gilead days when women were not protected. She thinks about the freedom she had. She thinks about her control. This is more torture than if she were just born into this society; she would have nothing to compare it to. Because she’s had a life so much sweeter, she desires it badly.

“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given the freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

Back in what’s really going on, Offred and Ofglen are inside a store when a woman walks in. Everyone begins to whisper and the room shifts. She’s pregnant. The women covet her. Offred recognizes her from the Red Center. She used to be known as Janine, now Ofwarren. Offred believes she only went shopping to show off. She envies her.

She begins to think of her husband and her daughter. She remembers a detail of their life together. She would store plastic bags under the sink, and Luke would get worried that their daughter would get the bag caught over her head. Luke sounds so sweet and seems like such a good dad. She says she “took too much for granted.” these stories make me sad, but it’s the only way to really see the perspective of Offred and get to know her character better.

    As they finished their shopping, they encountered Japanese tourists. She notices their short skirts, high heels, calling them “instruments of torture.” Girl, you sound like Aunt Lydia. Their hair was exposed because they do not cover their heads. “Darkness and sexuality,” she calls it. They are fascinated but also repelled. She remember dressing like that. She remembers the sweet taste of freedom. Their interpreter asks them to take a photograph. Offred says no. she doesn’t even look them in the face; she looks down and shakes her head.

“I also know better than to say yes. Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia. Never forget it. To be seen– to be seen — is to be– her voice trembled– penetrated. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable.”

That explains why she always thinks someone is spying on her; Aunt Lydia is always in her head. “We are secret, forbidden, we excite them.” The tourists ask them if they are happy. Ofglen does not respond, so Offred replies, “yes, we are very happy.” She knows she had to say something because they may be Eyes.

Chapter 6

    On their way back, they always take the long way. Ofglen asks to go by the church. Offred expresses that she thinks that Ofglen does everything for show. She doesn’t really mean what she does. As she bows her head in prayer, she thinks she only does it to look good. Offred also thinks that Ofglen probably perceives her the same way too. They cannot trust each other because they do not know each other; however, this is not their fault. Offred reveals they really come to see the Wall; this is where they hang people. She calls this a Men’s Salvaging. They “must be made into examples, for the rest.” She’s supposed to feel hated and scorn toward them, she says. But, instead, she feels relief because none of them are Luke. She’s hoping he’s still alive, telling herself he is. Ofglen starts crying, Offred says she “can’t afford to know.” She has no sympathy for her.

“Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.”

Introduction to The Handmaid’s Tale

Welcome to my very first blog post for The Handmaid’s Tale! I’m excited to continue reading this book. I know it will inform me of the tragedy of women being objects. Also, I feel like there are going to be hints of reality in here, and I’m ready to dig in and find them out for myself. Basically, I want to see how much I can compare this to real life events.

Let’s jump right in the epigraph. The first one, from Genesis 30:1-3, sticks out to me the most. It is listed first, so it has to have major significance. It really sets the tone of seriousness and just rawness for the book. According to these scriptures, Rachel is unable to bare children for Jacob; notice the emphasis on the importance of having children to please her husband. In order to make this happen, Rachel tells him to get her maid pregnant so she can claim the children as her own. I’m assuming that Atwood is trying to suggest further reasoning behind using women as objects of fertility. This makes me question why I ever read that scripture and never thought twice about it.

Moving into the introduction, in 1984 Margaret Atwood began creating this futuristic world that was influenced by West Berlin and her experiences while she was there.

“I experienced the wariness, the feeling of being spied on, the silences, the changes of subject, the oblique ways in which people might convey information, and these had an influence on what I was writing.” -Margaret Atwood

Atwood continues by describing her writing process as a “risky venture.” It is important to realize the setting of the book is not labeled the United States of America. It is now called the “Republic of Gilead.” Also, although the name of the narrator is not mentioned in the beginning of the first chapter, Atwood tells us in the introduction her name is Offred. The author also highlights the possibility of “offered,” “denoting a religious offering or a victim offered for sacrifice.” This is a crucial comparison to remember while reading the book because it points out what the women are truly viewed as in this society.

Atwood mentions “the literature of witness,” and it brings about a different point of view. She compares Offred to Anne Frank, offering her story to a future reader; “this is an act of hope.” I like how she mentions that all writers start by reading a book that speaks to them, saying that Offred’s readers may become writers in response to this. This means me or anyone who chooses to read this book could be inspired. Knowledge is power.

Chapter 1: Night

    The chapter begins in first-person narrative, describing a gymnasium in which the narrator, Offred, sleeps. This seems unusual at first, but, then, we find out she is not the only one sleeping here. Atwood uses imagery to describe the memories that were created here, and I pick up on a sense of longing or reminiscing. At first read, the army cots that they sleep on give me the assumption of slavery or imprisonment, especially when she says they are forbidden to speak to each other. She goes on to introduce the Aunts, and we learn they patrol and watch them as if they are being held captive- because they are. This is where it gets weird. The guards stand outside and make sure none of the women go outside. They’re only allowed to go outside for their walks, which are also monitored. At the end of this chapter, we learn a bit of Offred’s dark, twisted character. She realizes her power is her body, and she knows the men will respond to it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though; she’s had to think of her options, just like any other woman would do. I feel like this may be a foreshadowing of what’s to come in the future chapters of the novel.