“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 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!