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The Handmaid’s Tale: Chapters V-VI

As Rachel mentions in her blogpost below, this section of The Handmaid’s Tale contains a great deal of information. The reading begins with a discussion of time. Offred longs for a hobby such as embroidery, weaving, or knitting to occupy herself. She recalls pieces of artwork that she’s seen that feature women waiting for something; pieces of art that convey a sense of boredom. Offred relates to these pieces of art as she too now waits for a man to put her to “use” (69). It was disheartening to see how easily Offred could connect with those paintings and animals such as caged pigs and lab rats. Moreover, Offred thinks back to her time in the gymnasium when the Aunts gave them time to rest and considers that maybe they were on some kind of drug. I was particularly struck by this remark; however, I think I agree with Offred’s commentary that “it was better to be lethargic. You could tell yourself you were saving up your strength” (70). By using this mentality, the Handmaids were able to cope as best as they could with their surroundings.

A blog post about this section would be incomplete without at least mentioning the horrific scene as recounted in Chapter 16. This scene explicitly reveals the true duty of a Handmaid, to serve as merely a body: a body capable of carrying a child. Serena Joy’s quick dismissal of Offred reveals her desire to assert her dominance within the social hierarchy rather than increase the chances of conception.

Chapter 17 describes three distinct acts of rebellion. First, Offred uses the butter (that she previously hid in her shoe) as lotion. Second, Offred sneaks out of her room to steal something. As Offred describes on page 97, she is “doing something, on [her] own.” These acts serve as glimpses of freedom in her very restricted life. Furthermore, these acts speak to the extent of her oppression, in the sense that she must use butter and leaving her bedroom in the middle of the night in order to feel somewhat liberated. Third, Offred and Nick’s encounter in the sitting room. Offred notes that “it’s so good, to be touched by someone, to be felt so greedily, to feel so greedy” (99). Like Rachel, I am curious to see the outcome of this scene and why The Commander is calling Offred into his office.

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6 Comments

  1. Nicolette Romley Nicolette Romley

    When Offred’s three acts of rebellion are listed next to each other, it just emphasizes how ridiculous the rules in Gilead are. These acts feel similar to the rebellious acts in Persepolis, where the acts alone do not seem rebellious but when put in the context in Iran, the acts were indeed rebellious.

  2. David Ataide David Ataide

    I enjoyed the scenes where Offred would “rebel” in her own way because they were so menial when compared to how life is in the United States today. Acts such as those wouldn’t be considered high crimes of treason or rebellion, but rather just minor infractions. The scope of rebellion changes dramatically in an oppressed society.

  3. Katherine Fell Katherine Fell

    I like how you noted how prevalent Offred’s need for human connection is in these chapters. As you stated in your post, the Handmaid’s have been cruelly dehumanized, as the society of Gilead views them merely as vessels for bearing children. The degradation of Offred becomes especially clear in her small acts of rebellion and her excitement when she talks about her interaction with Nick.

  4. Alexander Seeley Alexander Seeley

    NIck and Offred cannot resist each other. The punishment they both could receive for having sex is immense, yet many people do it and are hung from the wall in consequence. Having sex with Nick seems to be the ultimate way of rebellion in which her body could be treated with feeling and lust, rather than the way in which it is typically viewed by society at this point in the book. The natural desire for sexual pleasure could be the end of Offred, yet I hope that there is some way Offred will be able to have this pleasure without being caught and ridiculed, as an ultimate act of rebellion.

  5. Sara Messervey Sara Messervey

    There are so many layers to Offred’s relationship with her body and her “flirtationship” with Nick. I think it’s critical to recognize how the whole world has positioned her as an object. The handmaids are chambers of incubation that powerful men can use and abuse as they please, that then face the wrath of the wives. Since her husband, Offred’s only experience of sex (if you can call it that) has presumably been this form of biblical rape. For her to want someone and use her body for an act of wanting is the ultimate form of reclaiming autonomy, in the absence of being able to commit the more autonomous act of rejecting the sex she does not want.

  6. Alexander Bogomolov Alexander Bogomolov

    Offred’s acts of rebellion seem like the first of many, and possibly progressively more risky, attempts to find some form of freedom and basic autonomy. I am curious to see where she goes from here. I also agree with your point about Serena Joy’s dismissal of Offred, but think it is more complex that that and that she does not fear losing her social dominance, but fears losing her place in the eyes of the Commander.

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