A Rat In a Maze

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood shows the future through a religious and corrupted lens where women who can reproduce are now national resources. Parts IX-X give us more of Offred’s life under the governments restrictions on her, specifically on her uterus.


Offred lives a strict, inhuman routine and is given an escape through her meetings with the Commander. She is bound to him by her womb, and he rapes her during these “special” Ceremonial nights, yet she finds comfort in their secret meetings that go against all household rules in this new era of Gilead. With each visit to his office she is inching closer to pieces of her former lifestyle as he lures her in with Scrabble games and forbidden magazines. These scenes with Offred and the Commander remind me that she is in fact a prisoner, and as a prisoner you would most likely give in to any small amounts of freedom. In this case, Offred gets to take a true breath outside of the involuntary lifestyle forced onto her. “To want is to have a weakness. It is this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me”, (Atwood 136). These blinks of liberty through ordinary Scrabble games keep her very expectant and enlivened, as she describes this feeling as being “naughty”. These meetings crack open a door to many broad possibilities: possibilities that can worsen her situation with consequences and setbacks or possibilities that can help her inch closer to something more, something closer to free. Even the Commander himself holding the least demeaning occupation in this new society bends around the restrictions and rules as he seems to be amused by providing Offred with forbidden alone time and literature.

The Maze

Offred is confined to the home of the Commander and her heavily monitored outings with her “twin”, Ofglen. Even with her newly found bits of release at night with the Commander, Offred is still a “two-legged” womb in the eyes of Gilead. “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze”, (Atwood 165). Even with the breakthrough between her and Ofglen on page 168 when they figuratively strip themselves of their constant disguise through their eye contact, Offred was still obliged to her duty of reproducing. Whenever Offred and Ofglen set out on their surveilanced walks, their dialogue was completely rehearsed and aided to their characters; saying things like “God sent us good weather” and “Blessed be the fruit” as common conversation. On page 168, Offred and Ofglen cross an “invisible line” together as they break free from their constant cover up masked by the white wings that camouflaged them anywhere in Gilead. Through this revelation between these women, we see the silver lining of hope that exists beyond their connection. “You can join us”, Ofglen assures Offred on page 168, giving us context to other Handmaids who’ve come together despite their status. Though these women are bound to their red cloaks and their uteruses, they seem to have discovered their own loophole within each other, as who they now are in this sick society of Gilead brings them closer than ever in that they are enduring the same pain and unjust experiences.

Here is another screen grab from The Handmaid’s Tale Hulu series. I feel that including these photos gives a great visual representation to the novel. Depicted above is Offred playing Scrabble with the Commander.

One thought on “A Rat In a Maze

  1. Daniel

    The screenshot from the Hulu series serves to visualize and underline the power imbalance between Offred and the Commander.Offred must walk a thin line with the Commander while Serena Joy waits in the wings to pounce upon her!


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