Category Archives: The Handmaid’s Tale

Lost in “heaven”

After reading the part IX and X of the book, “The Handmaid’s Tales”, I was a little surprised on the behavioral changes on Offred. After Offred has the body touching with the commander, she was starting to get into the feeling of their relationship, even though the commander actually don’t understand a bit of the handmaid’s burdens and he was just enjoying the sexual activity with Offred or the handmaids were just treated as animals or slaves. However, she just don’t mind about that, she was enjoying their secret relationship and keep the attention to the commander’s mistress, Serena. She had been lost in the joy and forgotten the situation of humiliation.

In Offred’s memory of Nazi, by comparing the documentary about the Nazi guard and the situation of the commander and her. Even though they were both not purely evil, but for the commander, he did not understand even a little bit of the situation of Offred. He has never thought about how women’s skins get dry before. When he hears Offred said they use butter, he mused and laughed at it which made Offred want to slap him. All these seem the commander does not understand the humiliation of the handmaids or women living in Gilead and he just remember his responsibility for this country.

Before the creation of Gilead which was previous United States, what she remember was that all those women having jobs and people had to take those pieces of paper money when they go for shopping every time. During that period, more sexual liberation seemed to be there than what she is experiencing in Gilead now, which pornography and prostitution are acceptable. And she was not that regret of losing all these since the time she lost her job and her money, Luke promised her to take care of her instead. However, she did not thought about that they are still taking the blames and they are actually being ignorance at this moment.

The relationship between the commander and her seemed to be found out soon by Serena, but the commander did not care about it that much. The commander just put Offred’s position and her life into troubles to satisfy his desire for sexual activity. The commander’s selfish was totally expressed at this moment and the ignorance of Offred was showed as well. She failed to realize her real situation and she was actually still under the “protections” under the government, she had lost herself at this moment.

At the end of the day. They’re all prisoners.

The commander seems to be one of the few commanders that somewhat feels sorry for the the handmaids that are put under his steed. He seems like the kind of person that sees the handmaids in a more human perspective than many of the other characters in this book. We were also taught that the handmaid that was ordered there before serve the commander before Offred came had the same sort of meetings that Offred is currently having with the commander. Although, the previous handmaid’s meetings with the commander were cut short the second Serena found out about their meetings. The following event of the handmaid killing herself brings a specific question in mind. What exactly are these colonies and how are the women and unwomen treated in them? I mean, i get that woman who are not useful in the Gilead empire are sent to them but we are rarely given a detail description as to what happens inside of them. But, whatever the colony truly is, we know full well that it clearly isn’t something good. Even for the woman who have given birth. The fact that the handmaid that served before Offred was so scared of being sent their that she would rather take her own life then potentially suffer. Also, how did the Gilleads officially come into power? we already know of the U.S’s downfall but we were never given an explanation as to how the Gilead kingdom came to be. Were they a small time religious cult that took the opportunity to take over the second the government collapsed? or were they were they created during the collapse by a group of like minded individuals with a lot of political influence and or money? So many things about this world are still shrouded in mystery. Which makes it all the more exciting when you’re try predict what might happen next. Our knowledge is very limited because of the fact that we’re seeing the story play out through Offred’s eyes. Also, i kind of have to ask. Is Offred morally wrong in seeing the commander’s guilt as a point of exploitation to use for her own goal of escape? This sort of question would usually (I assume) be met with a unanimous NO and, i can see why. The Gilead empire have women treated as nothing but objects to be used as a means towards an end. Offred using a weakness in the system should be seen as a work of cunning and intelligence with a side of comeuppance but, let me ask you this (and please bare in mind, that i’m going to act as a pseudo devil’s advocate. I say pseudo because i wont be fully committing to the role, just using it as a starting point for a somewhat specific argument). The commander, in his own way is actually seeing the handmaid’s as actual human beings with emotion. In this empire, woman are constantly pushed ad forced to do things with out their own opinions or feelings being accounted for. The commander seems to be the main person (as of now anyway) to actually go out of his way and endanger punishment to give his current handmaids some respite in their gray and dreary lives. The commander, just like offred, seem to be a slave to the system and can’t exactly leave or act outside of their own roles with out swift and harsh punishment from their totalitarian leaders. Sure, he may be given more power to act on than the other handmaid’s do but, he is also a prisoner in his own right. So, I’d have to ask again. Is Offred, taking advantage of the commander’s kindness and guilt morally wrong? morally right? or is the question of morals irrelevant as a whole?

Problems of a women in Gilead

In the novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the world controlled by Gilead oppresses women of their freedom. Gilead only views women who have the potential to procreate with as mere flesh.  For Offred, the main protagonist, it has been difficult for her. She doesn’t have the right to be able to do simple things for herself, like to own lotion for her skin, and people disrespect her for the role as a Handmaid. 

Offred remembers when she was young about an interview of a woman wearing heavy make-up, this influences her thoughts about the commander. Recently the commander has been acting strangely towards Offred. As if the commander starts to care about Offred’s feelings. She suddenly recalls a moment  of watching a documentary about World War II that she saw as a child. Offred mostly remembers the documentary about a mistress of a Nazi concentration-camp supervisor. The mistress said she had no knowledge about the mass extermination taking place next to her home. The old mistress, wearing a lot of make-up at the time, responds in the interview that her lover wasn’t a monster. Offred mostly remembers how sweet and kind the Nazis was behaving. A couple of days after the interview the mistress commits suicide. Offred mostly remembers the make-up (145-146). Offred has strong memories about having make-up or lotion before Gilead. This items hold a strong importance to her. She really cares about keeping her appearance, this recalls in chapter 17 when Offred uses butter as lotion for her face. The documentary seems to be used as an anecdote to warn Offred about the commander. No matter how the person may appear outside, they are different person inside. The commander may be nice to now, but later can be different. This shows how people can treat the Handmaids very poorly.

Offred receives lotion from the commander as requested, the commander soon realizes that Offred isn’t allowed to have such things in her room. When Offred is alone with the commander in their third meeting. Offred requests if she may have lotion for his face. She later explains that she used butter before as lotion. The commander found it funny. “Butter, he said, musing. That’s very clever. Butter. He laughed. I could have slapped him,” (159). Offred is very irradiated by what the commander said. This represents important make-up or lotion is for Offred. She wants keep up her appearances but she can not do so with Gilead interfering with their rules. This shows in the society of Gilead that they have no empathy towards Handmiads and that their don’t understand their feelings towards Gilead.

Expect the unexpected

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood has taken a drastic turn in parts IX and X, the most surprising one being Offred’s changed view of the commander. Offred seems to be greatly influenced by Aunt Lydia, which with confidence can be said to not be the best woman to be influenced by. “ Men are sex machines, said Aunt Lydia, and not much more. They only want one thing” (Atwood 144). This quote shows how ignorant some women can be, when they think of men, they see them as one entity who is supposedly biologically programmed all to be the same. Aunt Lydia’s words must be confusing to Offred at times, because she’s known Luke before becoming a Handmaid, and she knows Luke isn’t the same as some of the men around her now. I find this last quote to be ignorant, disgusting and unfair to men. I take it as a personal attack from Aunt Lydia, because by poisoning the minds of the Handmaid’s, she leads them to think that the men in The Handmaid’s Tale are all the same.

One of the things I appreciate about this novel is it’s overwhelming descriptive nature, it is as if the narrator wants us readers to be immersed into the different moments throughout story. “ I crawl into the cupboard, draw up my knees, I’ll choke on it. My ribs hurt with holding back, I shake, I heave, seismic, volcanic, I’ll burst” ( 146 ). This quote describes Offred trying to suppress a laugh, it would be too loud and an inconvenience for her. This quote while being very descriptive gives the reader a deeper more personal perspective on a Handmaid’s restrictive and depressing life.

Further into the story, Offred has surprisingly discovered a whole other side to the commander, she no longer sees him as just another men, which interferes with her attempts to pretend she isn’t present at the ceremony. “ I would steel myself. I would pretend not to be present, not in the flesh” ( 160 ). In this quote, we can see how Offred found a way to endure the previous ceremonies, however further into the story, she won’t be able to use that anymore. “ I found that things were changed. There was an awkwardness now that there hadn’t been before” ( 160 ). “ It was like being on an operating table, in the full glare; like being on a stage” ( 161 ). The preceding quotes are direct abstracts of Offred’s new view toward the commander and the ceremony. These new perspectives must be very confusing and possibly harmful to her continued participation as a Handmaid.

The following picture is from the Hulu series  based on the novel The Handmaid’s Tale.

https://goo.gl/images/FfNHJZ

Keep calm they said on television. Everything is under control.

“Keep calm they said on television. Everything is under control” (174)

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

 Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller’s quote from the early postwar period should be an eye-opener for all of us but we would prefer to ignore those lines if we possibly can. It describes the complacency with which we face oppression, hoping that it will simply go away, as petty harassment oftentimes does when it finds no reciprocation.

So also it was in Gilead which became Gilead without anybody really paying attention until it was too late “It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.” (174). The fools felt uncomfortable but did not want to make matters worse so they waited patiently. “They said that new elections would be held but that it would take some time to prepare for them.” (174). It sounded reasonable to let the people decide in a democratic process and so the fools waited some more. “Newspapers were censored and some were closed down, for security reasons they said” (174) That also sounded reasonable they said, let us wait for elections; let the people decide!.

“Sorry, he said. This number’s not valid.” (175) Offred was told by the store clerk when her Compucard was refused despite her having thousands in her account. ”I have to let you go, he said. It’s the law, I have to” (176) Offred was told by her employer as he laid her off, without her understanding why. It was her street-smart friend Moira who wised her up ““Women can’t hold property anymore, she said. It’s a new law. Turned on the TV today?” (178). The trap has snapped closed and Offred is now powerless.

A poorly planned escape attempt and Offred becomes a Handmaid. Here she finally wakes up, determined to be reunited with her daughter. “Live in the present, make the most of it, it’s all you’ve got” (143) Offred admirable in her resolve, uses everything at her disposal to maintain her sanity. She lives only in the present, denying herself the opium of escapist fantasy or the resentment that brooding upon her loss would force upon her. Offred cannot afford resentment because it will make her vulnerable. She must and will control her emotions. Like a storekeeper she takes stock of her current situation: “I am thirty-three years old. I have brown hair….I have viable ovaries. I have one more chance.” (143) Offred thinks with cold and calculated reason. She cannot let her emotions take control of her. Her self-control is admirable and exemplary. Why express or even feel emotions that can only endanger her?

As for us, the Handmaids and even the Marthas, we avoid illness. The Marthas don’t want to be forced to retire, because who knows where they go? You don’t see that many old women around anymore. As for us, any real illness, anything lingering, weakening, a loss of flesh or appetite, a fall of hair, a failure of the glands, would be terminal (154).

Offreds courage and resolve in the face of such damning odds is amazing. How can she control herself? but she does! She sees the opportunity afforded her by the Commander’s interest in her. She ponders each and every move on that most dangerous of chess boards. She weight each and every word that she releases from her mouth, both with the Commander and Ofglen. She is not afraid to take calculated risks but only if they will advance her!

Forbidden Desires

In the Novel The Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood foretells a future where women who can reproduce are nothing more than a vessel to, well… reproduce. That is their only purpose. This future is under the scope of a religious yet corrupted society. The Irony. Part 9 through 10 continues with the life of it’s main character Offred.  “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze” (Atwood 165). This is how Offred feels like as she does her daily duties. This is a very disturbing thought especially with today’s norms. The handmaids are actual people with actual desires but some if not all of these desires are indeed forbidden. Much like when The Commander dangles a magazine filled with models in front of Offred. Magazines like those are forbidden in their society. “There was something Renaissance about the pose, but it was princes I thought of, not coiffed and ringleted maidens. Those candid eyes, shadowed with makeup, yes, but like the eyes of cats, fixed for the pounce”, (Atwood, 157). These are the desires of Offred. The kind of freedom to feel powerful. In her current situation she is not powerful at all. The Commanders wife hates her because she does what the wife cannot do, bear children though Offred has yet to succeed in it herself. I would imagine that Serena, the Commanders wife, does not appreciate that the Commander has to lay with Offred in order to bear children. It could be jealousy. The simple act of someone coming into your territory, unwelcomed, yet she understands the importance of it. This is why during the ceremonies where the Commander lays with Offred and Serena there as well, Serena would inflict pain and discomfort to make sure Offred knows her place. Offred can not fight back because she knows it would mean death. This slowly changes as the Commander confesses that he and Serena have not been the same. He is clearly losing his love for Serena especially with the fact that he keeps calling Offred to these late night meetings which she herself has grown comfort to. These Meetings has gotten her and the Commander closer yet she hates it because of the circumstances between them yet she is loving it at the same time because she hates Serena as well. “I now had power over her, of a kind, although she didn’t know it. And I enjoyed that. Why pretend? I enjoyed it a lot”, (Atwood, 162). Offred is hungry, not the hungry for food but lustful for power. Power is freedom and she craves it ever so much. I am sure anyone would crave power when they are pitted into a future with a low ceiling. It is either you serve your purpose or you are deemed worthless and sent out out he colonies which to many equals death. Forbidden Desires is how I see it, all of Offred’s desires are forbidden, yet she is not wrong at all for wanting more.

The Handmaid’s Tale: IX-X

After sections nine and ten are read, we get a better picture of the world before Gilead rose and how this structure came into place. We get a picture of Offred’s life before the chaos begins, it is just like our world. Then the attack happened, the president is murdered, congress is killed, and the constitution is taking away. Offred’s privilege’s and actions are limited if not halted, meaning that all females in the society of USA are now banned from owning anything and are dependent on next of kin(male) or husband to take care of any affairs. The first example of this is when Offred is at the local store getting her pack of cigarettes, “It’s not valid, he repeated obstinately. See that red light? Means it’s not valid.” (176). Offred takes the entire day calling the company trying to resolve this issue of why her card isn’t working and soon her boss calls her in along with about nine other females. “We’re being fired? I said. I stood up. But why?”(176), this shows how the society is moving backwards in the novel and is moving back in the direction where all the females had to rely on their husbands or fathers in order to move in life.

Yet, when we look at the time that Offred is spending with the Commander, we can see the old society, before the president, congress and the constitution were killed, comeback in the little moments that they play scramble together. The commander talks with Offred, spends time with her like a human being, and an individual. As time progresses, she begins to enjoy these sessions with the commander but she tells herself something important, “I couldn’t quite define it– for the Commander wasn’t in love with me, I refuse to believe he felt anything for me as extreme as that– what would be left for her?”(161), these are her thoughts as the Ceremony takes place again and this time she is self-conscious about her body and the fact that she her hatred towards Serena Joy has turned into jealousy and guilt for taking about her husband from her, because now she is her own person in this ceremony. The Commander knows it as well, which is why when he reached out his hand towards Offred, she moved her head away, in order not to give away their relationship outside the Ceremony for fear of what might happen to her.

Offred and the Commander continue their meetings and she reads in front of him, they continue to play scramble and she even asks him about the writing in the cupboard in her room. The writing in Latin, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum“(185) which means “don’t let the bastards grind you down” comes from a book of jokes, however, a handmaid had commited suicide. The handmaid that died also came to these sessions and now the Commander is trying to save Offred from the same fate, even though he is ignorant to the way the handmaid’s are treated, he is trying to find a way to prevent the same tragedy from happening again. All Offred wants is to know what’s going on(188).

Oh My..

Where we were assigned to read in the Handmaid’s Tale becomes clear that the relationship between Offred and the commander is growing. I couldn’t help myself from thinking about the different scenarios of Offred and the Commander getting caught together by a worker or even worse the wife and all hell is let loose.  The relationship they have going on is a real dangerous one, since we saw how the wife expects the relationship between the three of them should be, “As for my husband, she said, he’s just that. My husband. I want that to be perfectly clear. Till death do us part. It’s final.” It’s clear that the wife doesn’t want and doesn’t expect any other relations to go between the handmaids and her husband, which we saw that she’s also included into the ceremony. If the relationship between the Commander and Offred becomes more intimate than it is, it can start a whole new problem in the house. I definitely didn’t see this coming, the relationship that has grown bigger from tradition to actually genuine emotions. We see that they made arrangements when Offred can visit the Commander on page 154. We see on page 155 when Offred is describing the first time her and the Commander arranged to see each other,”The first time, I was confused. His needs were obscure to me…there had been a letdown of sorts. What had I been expecting, behind that closed door…Something unspeakable, down on all fours perhaps, perversions, whips, mutilations?… To be asked to play Scrabble, instead, as if we were an old married couple, or two children, seemed kinky in the extreme, a violation in its own way.” The Commander doesn’t want a sex partner, he wants a friend. Offred and I as well was surprised at his requests because why risk the rules just to play Scrabble and converse with each other? In a situation like this, erotix sex wouldn’t be a surprise from the Commander, but i think it’s more deeper than this, more deeper than sex, he wants a companion, someone to just have conversations with and enjoy themselves. So far in the novel we don’t know much about the relationship between the Commander and the wife but stated on page 161 Offred says, “Partly I was jealous of her; but how could I be jealous of a woman so obviously dried- up and unhappy? You can only be jealous of someone who has something you think you ought to have yourself. Nevertheless I was jealous.” Is this a sign of Offred gaining feelings for Commander? She has a part of the Commander we don’t see while he is with the wife , what more could she want? Maybe to have her spot as the wife? This just reminded me about the housewife before Offred, what happened to her? Did the Commander have a ‘lowkey’ relationship wit her too and the wife found out?  Back on page 11 Offred gives us a snippet of a conversation between the Martha’s which stated, “Stillborn, it was…Stabbed her with a knitting needle, right in the belly. Jealousy, it must have been, eating her up..” Could they have been talking about the handmaid before Offred? Will the wife find out about Offred and the Commander secret relationship? If she does will she kill her?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Contrast Between the Handmaiden and Commander

In Parts IX-X of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood focuses on the relationship between Offred and the Commander, in regards to the way they are treated in this society, as the male Commander is regarded is powerful, while the female Handmaid is thought of as weak.

The Commander has been asking Offred to come visit him, and Offred is always very anxious every time she is signaled to go to his office. It is strictly forbidden for Handmaids and Commanders to interact with each other outside of the required duties of the Ceremony. Offred explicitly says at length that “my presence here is illegal. It’s forbidden for us to be alone with the Commanders. 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. […] No room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that’s all…” (136). If caught, there would be a heavy punishment, and Offred believes that if she were caught she “could become an Unwoman” (136). However, despite the risk, Offred is forced to go, as Commanders have total control over the lesser women, and he can order them around at his whims. Offred confirms this when she says that “to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power” (136).

In all of their meetings, Offred is always anxious, while the Commander is unabashedly ignorant to the plight of Handmaidens. During the first meeting, Offred describes her feelings about it as “an inner jeering. But it’s panic. The fact is I’m terrified” (137). Even though the Commander only asks Offred to play Scrabble with him, she is always apprehensive of him and his motives. It is revealed later on that the Commander had wanted to spend time with another woman because he had become estranged with his Wife Selena Joy: “How about your wife? He seemed to think about that. No, he said. She wouldn’t understand. Anyway, she won’t talk to me much anymore. We don’t seem to have much in common, these days. So there it was, out in the open: his wife didn’t understand him. That;s what I was there for, then” (158). The Commander was using his power to have some interactions with Offred because he was unhappy with his relationship with his Wife.

Later on in the same chapter, Offred and the Commander have an exchange that is very telling of their positions in the social hierarchy of Gilead. Offred asks the Commander to give her some hand lotion: “Hand lotion, I said. Or face lotion. Our skin gets very dry. […] Dry? the Commander said, as if he’d never thought about that before. What do you do about it? We use butter, I said. When we can get it. […] Butter, he said, musing. That’s very clever. Butter. He laughed. I could have slapped him” (158-159). This shows that the Commander is very ignorant to the lives of the Handmaidens, and he doesn’t very much understand how they live compared to his own life. Commanders are very high up in the social rankings while Handmaidens are very low. Commanders enjoy many luxuries of life, that Handmaidens cannot experience. Something as minor as lotion is not allowed, and Offred asks the Commander to give her some. The way the Commander reacts to her request shows that he thinks lotion is trivial, but Offred thinks otherwise, as it is a very rare commodity for her. This conversation shows the contrast between the lives of the Handmaidens and the Commanders.

Human emotion

Although Offred seems to be gaining more self confidence in the current situation she is in, I’m surprised that she also seems to be accepting the fact that she never may leave the center. During the beginning of the book, she was expecting Luke to save her, or break her out any minute and was constantly dreaming about it, but not suddenly she has accepted that this is where she belongs now. “But that’s where I am, there’s no escaping it. Tim’es a trap. I’m caught in it. I must forget about my secret name and all ways back. My name is Offred now, and here is where I live.” (143) She is acknowledging that her previous life is irrelevant and should not be considered anymore which I think is strange since I think even in such a situation she would have a little hope for something good to happen. Maybe the rumor of drugs in the food is possible and the women are persuaded into thinking in such a way.

Offred also seems to find a weakness in the commander or tries to manipulate him. The commander wanted to see Offred in private which was extremely unusual since she was a handmaid, yet all the suspense portrayed was humorously for nothing as the Commander wanted to play scrabble with her. Since the handmaids were forbidden to read or write, I’m sure Offred enjoyed playing scrabble, although she was probably rather confused. Offred gave off the vibe that she was “getting comfortable”, but I think this could be very dangerous since she is a handmaid and the consequences that pertain to her. She contemplates the consequences and does realize that this could possibly be, “it could be a passport, it could be my downfall.” (144). “I think I could get some of that, he said, as if indulging in a chil’d wish for bubble gum. But she might smell it on you.” (159) The commander said to Offred when she asked for hand/face lotion which was prohibited. This shows the commander knows as well what he is doing is risky and considered “wrong,” but yet he still goes through with it. He continues also on page 184, offering Offred many times of magazines and novels to read at her choosing which was strictly prohibited for handmaids.