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.