Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intent to last (Atwood 8)
From the very beginning Offred is aware of the many threats to her survival, threats both from without and within herself. Offred understands that the carefully control of her consciousness is key to her sanity and ultimate survival. I will examine some of the techniques that Offred uses to survive the forces that are the biggest threat to her well-being.
Thoughts and emotions must be carefully unspun so as not to lose self-control. “I put a lot of effort into making such distinctions. I need to make them. I need to be very clear in my own mind” (Atwood 33). Offred constantly tries to never let her thoughts and emotions run ahead of her. The taut spring of her mind must be unwound very slowly and deliberately.
Sensory stimuli is food to the soul. “But a chair, sunlight, flowers: these are not to be dismissed. I am alive. I live. I breathe” (Atwood 8) Like any prisoner, Offred understands that the more acute her awareness of the sensory stimuli that surrounds her, the better she can create a world in which she can survive and find meaning. She can feel the sunlight, bask in its heat and allow the visual stimulus to fill her. She can internalize the beauty of a flower, its soft perfection. She can lose herself in herself, in being alive, in breathing, slowly, feeling the cool air rushing through her nostrils as she inhales. She can expel her fears as she exhales. Breathing, cycle after cycle to transcend her current difficult reality. “I hunger to touch something other than cloth or wood” (Atwood 8). Despite the availability of visual stimuli Offred yearns for tactile stimulus. She would gladly work in the kitchen, kneads dough, prepare food just to feel the food with her hands.
Offred uses the nights to escape the present by visiting the past. “The night is mine, my own time, to do with as I will” (37). Offred can take mundane memories from the past and relive them, her friend Moira being a good example. Simple, silly and banal memories can, like old movies, be rerun in her mind to escape that which does not bear thought; the present.
The past is a double edged sword. It brings escape and joy but also pain and yearning:“I step into the water, lie down, let it hold me. The water is soft as hands. I close my eyes and she’s there with me, suddenly, without warning, it must be the smell of the soap” (Atwood 63). Smell can be a particularly powerful stimulus, it can bypass our consciousness and motivate us to action before we are even aware of it. Longings for her lost daughter are never far from Offred’s heart and constantly threaten her equilibrium. “The kitchen smells of yeast, a nostalgic smell…This is a nostalgic smell, and I know I must shut it put “ (Atwood 47). The smell of cooking and baking are also powerful stimuli and must be controlled.