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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
In the Night chapter, Offred is in her room thinking about what had happen earlier in the evening when the commander invited her to his study. I like the way she had described how she felt standing in front of the commander’s door. How she explained what “to want” means. When she said “To want is to have a weakness” . And how she was curious as to knowing what was his weakness.
I found it interesting that his “weakness” was a part of what make us human. What he wanted was something that, up until now, I had not pay attention to, was the same thing that Offred wanted; he wanted human contact. He wanted human contact that was not dictated to him. I had not realized that in this world the men loses a lot too. It is funny how this new world have taken away freedoms from both men and women. I think that he miss having a female friend to talk to. He wanted a woman’s company other than for procreation reasons. But he also, miss some thing as simple as a real kiss. It was nice to see that he said “Hello” to Offred when she walked into his room. Offred had thought to herself that saying “Hello” was “the old form of greeting”  that she haven’t heard in a while. To her, by him saying the simple word as “Hello” “seems out of place, comical even, a flip backwards in time, a stunt.” . Then she realized that she “can think of nothing appropriate to say in return” .
By him inviting Offred to his room, we get a glimpse at what type of man he is. I believe he miss they way things were. I feel this way because when had asked Offred to play Scrabble with him and then he told her to “go home” and asks her if she will “be all right, as if the stairway is a dark street.” . It like he wishes that he could go back in time where such things as seeing a woman off to her house, were the norm. then when Offred was about to leave he say to her “thank you…For the game…I want you to kiss me” . When she gave him a peck on the lips, he he smile in a sheepish way and say “Not like that,…As if you mean it” . His reaction to her first kiss is telling. It is as if he really miss having a real kiss. It has me asking myself, does he love his wife? I guess that mates are chosen and not picked freely. So, if that is the case, then by his actions, This life is not fully geared to make men happy either.
It seem like this new Government only wants procreation and nothing else. I guess this is some what of keeping people inline with the rules and to not want to go against their oppressors. It also separates everybody, by having a color coded hierarchy way of life. But, now that this happen, I feel like Offred, it is a comical situation. Here is a man who is head of the house hold and is allow certain freedoms, as reading, writing, and having a job, only wants something so simple, as wanting “To be played with, to be gently kissed” . I understand how Offred wanted to laugh when she went back into her room. It is funny how men can create a world that is so cruel to live in and take away all of the simple joys that makes us human. To make laws that oppresses a whole gender and then at the same time want to break these laws by sneaking around. It is funny. Offred saw the Commander’s weakness. I hope that she realized that she has the same weakness and uses her new found power over the Commander wisely.
In, The Handmaid’s tail, it is becoming clear that due to Offred’s continuous visits made to the commander sneakingly at night they are both beginning to have feelings for each other. Or, this could be a one-way thing, where it is Offred falling for the commander. Although this is against their system and Offred’s role, the only one attempting to keep it unnoticeable is Offred. The commander is committing actions that are just a bit bizarre, to be honest. For example, “But that night, the first since the beginnings of whatever this new arrangement was between us — I had no name for it — I felt shy of him. I felt, for one thing, that he was actually looking at me, and I didn’t like it. The lights were on, as usual (…) I was conscious that my legs were hairy, in the straggly way of legs that once been shaved but have grown back; I was conscious of my armpits too, although of course, he couldn’t see them. I felt uncouth. This act of copulation, fertilization perhaps, which should have been no more to me thana bee is to a flower, had become for me indecorous, an embarrassing breach of prosperity, which it hadn’t been before. He was no longer a thing to me. that was the problem. I realized it that night, and the realization has stayed with me.”(Atwood 160) Typically a woman is shy of a man if she ACTUALLY cares about what he may think of her.. and it is more than clear that she cares about what he may be thinking of her in that very moment, as he sees how she isn’t actually taking care of herself as she knows she could. Like how she said her legs were not shaved nor her armpits, she sounds as though she regrets not doing so, FOR HIM specifically. These changes she is having emotionally is surprising. But, I think this is a positive thing for Offred, maybe she will not think of herself as a machine anymore? Even though this feeling is totally wrong, she’s actually feeling something for once in her life. “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 a someone who has something you think you ought to have yourself. nevertheless, I was jealous”(Atwood 160) I loved this sentence because here I can picture Offred realizing shes worth more than what others look at her as. yes, she does not get to keep her child but, she is actually able to conceive one and experience the most important part of having a child. The baby bump stages and the kicking etc., which the commanders wife is not able to have. But, at the end what she is truly missing is a significant other which is what she is jealous of. I do not think Offred wants to spend the rest of her life alone anymore, now that she knows what it’s like to like someone. She is growing.
In The Handmaid’s Tales, Offred is starting to have feeling for Commander. Offred is starting to have weird emotions, and the Commander take note of this to continue his advances. setting up for her downfall, awareness has decreased. From an earlier discussion, the topics where people discussion Offred is paying close attention to her senses, surroundings, and memories to maintaining her sanity, where she devalues her body to be like machine. This changing point because she considering herself to be more than machine for breeding. The Commander is like fueling Offred with false strength because authority is with the wives of Commander. This could lead Offred into being send to colonies.
Offred is starting to have feelings for her Commander, or Commander is eyeing at her for a chance. She describes her emotion to him “I felt shy of him.” (Atwood, 160) this shy for emotion is dangerous because she considering having emotions for the Commander who basically consider her a breeding machine. Then Commander is enjoying it “He reached his hand up as if to touch my face; I moved my head to the side to warn him away, hoping Serna Joy hadn’t noticed, and he withdrew his hand again,” he eyeing for Offred, and Offred was lucky if Serna Joy saw that Offred would be in trouble given that she just mistress and Serna Joy is the wife. The Commander taking note of Offred’s behavior to prepare advances at Offred, but this will endanger Offred if Serna Joy discover it.
Offred is now consider herself more of woman and stronger person, but she tries forget that she just like machine which can lead to her downfall. Offred feel like stronger woman because “To him I’m not just a boat with no cargo, a chalice with no wine in it, an oven – to be crude – minus the bun. To him I am not merely empty.” (Atwood, 163) It nice that Offred considering more of herself than a tool, but she isn’t in position of power. The Commander’s wives have the power “He wouldn’t be able to intervene, to save me; the transgressions of women in the household, whether Martha or Handmaid, are supposed to be under the jurisdiction of the Wives.” (162), and the wives can remove Offred if they discover that she been having that relationship with the Commander. She knows this but take pleasure in the fact “Also: I now had power over her, of a kind, although she didn’t know it.” (162) Offred is starting to be delusion thinking she has power when she just mistress. This can lead into drama, where wives we remove her from this house, and Offred may end up in the colonies if this keep up.
Offred is being casually with Commander given her position, she must not forget that she is just breeding machine or this can lead into a dangerous situation where Offred can get send to colonies and endanger her child. Offred described the wife to be malicious and vengeful woman, this something if Offred knows, she should avoid any dangerous activities.
Having read through the latest parts of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaids Tale, the new relationship that Offred that builds throughout the chapters feel like a moment in the past while currently being in the world of Gilead. Knowing that women are nothing more than tools in Gilead, Offred and the commander begin to build a relationship as people normally would in our time, though not exactly the same, they are at least able to speak to each other as people normally.
In Chapter 23 when Offred is first called into the Commander’s office, at first she has “An inner jeering. But it’s panic. The fact is I’m terrified”(137) and knowing her position, she is naturally terrified knowing that at any point in time she can be sent to the colonies which is their version of hell. But, whats surprising is that instead of calling Offred in to do “that”, the first things that the commander does is treat Offred like a person which isn’t seen anywhere in the novel so far. The commander lets Offred know that “You can sit down” (137) and ” I’d like ou to play a game of Scrabble with me” (138). Both of these actions are treating Offred not as a handmaid but as a person and not just from anyone, but from the commander who has the most power out of every person in the house. Knowing how the handmaids are, when Offred is brought into this new “situation” its kind of like bringing in a child that is brought into the principals office instead of calling a person for a casual conversation. Well, it is how the handmaids are trained to have that kind of mentality since Offred even though she was expecting “something unspeakable, down all fours perhaps, perversions, whips, mutilations? At the very least some minor sexual manipulation” (155).
As the chapters go on Offred and the Commander begin to have a more casual relationship, a relationship that you would expect friends to have. She would request things that a woman would usually use before Gilead became a thing. You would think that, it’s the commander the “leader” would be more strict and heavily enforce the rules of the country that he is living in, but he’s ignoring those rules behind closed doors when he is with Offred. On page 159 when Offred talks about what she uses as a replacement for lotion and hears the commanders response she thinks “I could have slapped him” (159). If she acted how she was when Offred first arrived to this house, that thought wouldn’t have ever crossed her mind knowing how handmaids are trained. It feels like a casual conversation that two people would have on any day of the week though I don’t think it would usually end up with one smacking the other. The way that Offred speaks to the commander is also more casual than formal knowing their status in Gilead; she speaks to him as if she usually would have if she was talking to a friend. The commander uses the words “You can do it. I know you can” (156) like he’s encouraging a friend even though in the republic of Gilead women have a lower status than men. A relationship that people would usually have before Gilead became a thing, between a commander and his handmaid, a casual relationship that is not supposed to be, begins.
Women in Gilead abide by the laws enforced upon handmaids. As they slave away and struggle to find their place in society. Those who ridicule them, are above them. Love is seen as unnecessary, as it has “nothing” to do with bring offspring to Gilead. Offred is a handmaid and their main purpose is reproduction. They are seen as mindless “dolls” as they are not treated as human beings, rather they are seen as “baby making.”
Back in chapter 16, Offred performed the ceremony with the commander. The act of intercourse is seen only as a duty to perform. Many consider this act as rape, but Offred is given no other plausible choice, but to abide by the rules. Those who do not follow the rules, are sent away. Either they stay “safe” within Gilead or get sent away, is up to the handmaid. Given these circumstances, I believe that this is the best way to find more about her missing daughter. Our protagonist has to kiss up to those above her in the hierarchy. Many questions remain unanswered and getting closer to the commander is one way to find out more about Gilead. “Whatever there is to know.” I say; but that’s too flippant. “What’s going on” (Atwood 188).
In chapter 23, we see that the commander wishes to see Offred in private. But why does the commander – who saw the ceremony only as a duty to perform, would want to see a handmaid? Further proof is that on page 135, the commander wanted a kiss from Offred. She understands that seeing the commander is wrong because her duty is to reproduce. But to disobey the commander would lead to more trouble because he is literally the household. “But to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power” (136). Margaret Atwood builds up this intense vibe, where the commander wants to see Offred in private, only to find it that he wanted to play scramble with her.
I also found it hilarious that all the suspense, hype was built up, just to play scramble. Offred is able to “stretch her legs” as she is able to spell words in the scramble games. I find it comical that the commander acts like a shy, pompous child. He first viewed the ceremony as a duty and now he wants spend more time with her. More importantly on page 140, he wanted her to kiss her with true intent. My initial reaction is, “Wow! This guy may be in love with Offred.” Many thoughts came into mind, where maybe the commander sees her now in a new light. He doesn’t just see her as a baby maker, but rather he views her as a potential human being.
Furthermore, the commander on page 162, is getting really close up with Offred. He seeks for more physical contact and doesn’t realize that there will be consequences if they are see by Serena. But the interaction between Offred and her commander is developing more into a relationship. Those human emotions are seen as blasphemy in Gilead and here the commander is displaying it. Even though he abides by the rules, they cannot control human emotion internally. She is slowly being treated as a equal, a human being.
In The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Part IX we get an insight as to how Offred reacts and how she thinks and how she feels after what has just happened in the study with The Commander. “I want you to kiss me” (139) “As if you meant it” (140). I was shocked at the ending of part VIII for the whole reason that all of this is forbidden and now he wants to kiss her. Not just that but now the commander wants Offred to kiss him like she meant it. I think that our dear author has wanted to show a side to the commander that we hadn’t seen, this vulnerability to him, this need and desperation to feel some sort of connection with this woman. “Time’s 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). Atwood uses these words to reminds us that Offred is trapped. There is no way to run from this, because if you get caught you get killed, and if she gets killed there is no way of seeing her precious little girl. I am pretty sure she does not want to get killed. It is all for her little girl Hannah. Forming a bond with anyone is forbidden, but Aunt Lydia has taught these handmaids that men are sex machines and they can be manipulated. “You must learn to manipulate them, for your own good.”(144). That is exactly what Offred is doing, using the commander without him even noting that it is for her benefit. She has gotten to read, to put lotion on and to play scrabble. “Pen is Envy, just holding it is envy. I envy the commander his pen.”(186) The commander has let Offred use his pen to write down the words, “ Nolite te bastardes carborundum” which means, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. Women are not allowed to write, read or anything having to do with words or physical work as that has been decided by men. Women are treated as housekeepers, some that can give birth and that is all. Women have been degraded at such level that it is insulting.
Offred realizes that she has some sort of power over the commander when she tells him about the former Offred, the one who hung herself. “You want my life to be bearable to me.” Atwood wants to demonstrate how easily Offred has found it to manipulate the commander, which is by guilt. She knows that he is guilty of that, she knows that he had something to do with it, after all the Latin phrase came from him but it was the former handmaid who wrote it in the room. She knows that this is the way it has to be. To manipulate..
“I suppose it was Cora who found her. ” (187) On another note, Cora was the one who found the former Offred, hung by the ceiling looking all lifeless. In the morning Cora finds Offred on the floor, she instantaneously drops everything as she screams. “What I heard first the next morning was a scream and a crash.”(151) It must be difficult for Cora to see another handmaid take her own life away. Cora has such high hopes for Offred that she even starts treating her nice.