The Commander – The smiling and sad mask

Having finished the last chapters of Margret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and knowing the stance of the Commander on what he got from the republic and Gilead and what he wants in his relationship with Offred left a question mark in my head.

In chapter 32 Offred and the commander spoke a bit and the commander spoke about his reason for helping to create Gilead. This paragraph alone “I’m not talking about sex he, he says. That was part of it, the sex was too easy….. You know what they were complaining about the most? Inability to feel” (210). This line alone left me asking, why? Why did you even bother helping in the creation of Gilead if that was one of your reasons? Throughout the entire novel, we are told that the sole purpose of the handmaid is to bear children. They are stripped of all will, belongings, family, everything and yet the commander says the line ” the sex was too easy” (210). “The inability to feel” (210), what he helped try to fight against is exactly what he got in the end. The relationship between a handmaid and the commander at first was exactly what he was fighting against the inability to in a relationship so he literally got what he wanted and yet he didn’t. The lines “Kissing is forbidden between us. This makes it bearable. One detaches oneself” (95) literally says that she has to remove herself entirely just to endure this process.

The commander’s ideal society and his actions are quite self contradicting, he wants to feel something in a relationship yet takes everything away from the handmaids. They aren’t allowed to read, they are limited in the things that they can do and the handmaids can’t even own anything. If you build a castle on sand it will have a unstable foundation and will eventually fall apart which is the best comparison I can come up with for Offred’s relationship with the commander. Well it is probably more of a one-sided feeling more than anything else to be honest or perhaps he is just ignorant of this as he was earlier in the novel when Offred asks the commander for some hand lotion in the line ” Why, he asked as if he really didn’t know. Maybe he didn’t. It wasn’t the first time he gave evidence of being truly ignorant of the real conditions under which we lived” (159). There isn’t anything in a relationship if the relationship has only one side going for it and the other remaining neutral out of fear. When the commander is further into his relationship with Offred he agrees to the line “You want my life to be bearable to me” (187) and yet before their meeting every other handmaid in Gilead is living a unbearable life compared to the life they once had.

The reasons he gave for creating Gilead left me more questions than answers. Why? Because what he fought to against is exactly what he got in the end. Sex was something that was too readily available? Yea commanders get it all the time now. They don’t feel anything out of it? Guess what they are procreating just for the sake of having kids and nothing else. Would anyone even be able to “feel” anything out of that? If I had actually met someone like this in a place like Gilead without getting killed I would have asked ” Why even bother with this? Sex to readily available? Guess what ignore it, that doesn’t involve you. Want to feel something? Find someone that gives a damn about you”. The reasons that the commander gave makes the creation of Gilead seem pointless.


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