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Who Really Holds the Power in Gilead?

In this section of The Handmaid’s Tale, we were able to witness the birth of Janine’s (Ofwarren) child. While this ceremony was interesting, I feel that the most interesting part of this section was the interaction between Offred and her Commander. In this chapter, the Commander summoned Offred to his study, something that is highly illegal in Gilead, for something very simple: to play a game of Scrabble. Offred debates going because of the illegality of the act, but decides it is far worse to disobey a Commander than it is to follow the law. What follows in this scene isn’t some commanding punishment or order, but rather just the Commander wanting to play a game with Offred.

I thought it was very interesting when the Commander started the conversation with “Hello,” something that Offred herself acknowledges as being the “old way” of talking. Then when the game is finished, all the Commander asks is for a kiss. This scene was really sad in a sort of way because the Commander seemed to just be lonely or empty, and almost seems like he feels bad for how things are in Gilead. The most important part about this scene is that it really brings to light that just because he is labeled as a “Commander,” doesn’t mean he is the one who wields the power in Gilead. Rather, these Commanders are just as under the control of the laws of Gilead as anyone else. I am interested to see where Offred’s interactions with her Commander go from here.

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  1. Nora Apt Nora Apt

    I think that Atwood’s selection of Scrabble as the board game is interesting. This choice almost implicitly reveals that the Commander views Offred with some level of intelligence as the game requires individuals to formulate words. Given how the rest of the Gilead views handmaids, I was surprised by the choice of Scrabble — a game that requires individuals to have a somewhat developed vocabulary.

  2. Rachel Nugent Rachel Nugent

    I am also very interested to see where their interactions go from here, because, like you said, it is really the first time we see that the Commander has been affected by this as well. It’s interesting to me how humanly he behaves. In class, we discussed the robotic nature of human interaction in the book so far, but even something as simple as “hello” and his being “sheepish” gives him more lively character than we’ve really seen so far.

  3. Emma Joaquin Emma Joaquin

    I think this section with the Commander leads the reader to have a small amount of empathy for him despite the initial feeling of him being the enemy. He still has human moments, like the ones you described, and never wanted to be in this society as well.

  4. Michael Paul Michael Paul

    I have so many questions about this part. While the Commande did genuinely seem lonely and subject to other rules and regulations, I can’t help but think that there might be something else at play here. Is the Commander up to something? Is there a deeper plan? I also wonder why Offred was chosen out of all the other Handmaids. Joy did acknowledge early on that Offred was smart, so perhaps this has something to do with why she was chosen to play scrabble. Still, a lot is left unsaid and I am eager to figure out this mystery.

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