The Handmaid's Tale By Margaret Atwood Summary and Analysis Chapter 13 - Night

Summary

That night, the heat in Offred's room grows oppressive, even with the fan. The searchlights are off. Dressed once more in her obligatory red habit and makeup-free face, she awaits Serena, who arrives at midnight to escort Offred through the kitchen and point the way to Nick's quarters. Inside his door, a spartan scene confronts Offred. The denuded walls and barracks-like atmosphere preface a silent, unromantic coupling. Fantasizing, Offred, starved for sexual contact with a man her own age and a social equal, comes alive with passion.

In reality, Offred is unsure of herself and hurries Nick, who makes a crude joke about a passionless act of artificial insemination.

Their seemingly harmless banter — "Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder" — causes Offred to cry for all she has lost, "an echo of an echo." Nick caresses her and leads her to the unadorned bed, where he turns down an army-issue blanket. In retrospect, Offred is shamed by her enjoyment of their perfunctory, clandestine intercourse and suffers guilt for betraying Luke.

Analysis

Repeatedly, Atwood superimposes two crucial themes — paranoia and betrayal. In a newly formed theocracy where women can lose all rights to jobs, property, family, name, and self in one swift coup, it is not surprising that Offred wonders whom to trust and how much. After she loses both her job and her personal bank account, the mutually satisfying husband-wife relationship with Luke that produced a little girl instantly withers. In a matter of days, Offred's forced submission to rigid patriarchy allows Luke to control her money and requires that she depend on him for fulfillment, support, and protection. Her private thoughts turn him into a pseudo-enemy — just another male usurping her personhood.

Life at the Commander's house is no better. On daily walks with Ofwarren, Offred hesitates to tell too much and conceals the deal hatched by Serena Joy — a black-market cigarette and a stolen glance at a Polaroid of Offred's daughter in exchange for an illicit servicing by Nick, whose status as chauffeur offers him only a bit more freedom than that accorded Cora, Rita, and the Marthas. Cautiously, expectantly, Offred ventures into the steamy midsummer night, trusting enough in Serena's desire for an infant to risk execution for adultery. Clasped in Nick's arms, and later, when the memories of their shadowy embraces are all she has left to savor, Offred, who only hours earlier shared a bed with the Commander, ponders her betrayal of Luke. Tragic in her uncertainty, she ponders a difficult rhetorical question: "If I knew for certain he's dead, would that make a difference?"

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