The Handmaid's Tale By Margaret Atwood Summary and Analysis Chapter 14 - Salvaging

Summary

Wracked with remorse and guilt for the tale that she must finish, Offred admits returning to Nick on the sly, surreptitiously making love by the glare of a state searchlight. Careless of the danger that she courts, Offred talks freely to Nick about Moira and Ofglen, but never of Luke or the Handmaid who died in her room; nor does she talk of love, the bad luck word. On daily walks to market, Offred anticipates immediate conception, her mind long past Ofglen's prattling about stealing papers from the Commander's desk or arranging for an escape through underground connections. Offred, for the first time since the takeover in Gilead, is content. Tentatively, she concludes, "I have made a life for myself."

A tolling bell summons all women to a Salvaging. Offred's old hatred of Red Center indoctrination resurfaces, and she gags at seeing Aunt Lydia preside over the execution of two Handmaids and a Wife for an unspecified crime. The event concludes with an added attraction: the Handmaids encircle a Guardian found guilty of raping two women, one of whom was pregnant and who lost the baby as a result of the rapist's brutality. The accused rapist tries to express innocence, but the Handmaids ignore his protestation and kick, jab, tear, and pummel him to death.

This eruption of beast-like violence affects all participants. Mentally unhinged, Janine clutches a tuft of blond hair and babbles innocuously, "You have a nice day." Offred accuses Ofglen of barbarism; Ofglen counters, "They're watching." Returning to her room, Offred tries to comprehend her own active participation in the savage execution, a monstrous emotional release that leaves her famished.

That afternoon, Offred joins a new Ofglen. Cautiously, Offred tests the new girl for loyalty and seeks to extract information about the former Ofglen's whereabouts and about Mayday. Offred fears that the former Ofglen may betray her to the authorities. In terror of harm to Luke, Moira, mother, or child, Offred knows that she would comply with interrogators, even if they aimed reprisals at her family. As Offred turns to go, the new Ofglen whispers, "She hanged herself. . . . She saw the van coming for her."

Safe from potential betrayal, Offred embraces the Red Center's teachings, thus capitulating to the insidious power of indoctrination and terrorism. At the steps of the Commander's house, she confronts a new menace — Serena with cloak and sequined garment in hand. Serena grips her cane as she demands, "How could you be so vulgar?" Calmly entering the house by the kitchen door, Offred, basket in hand, ponders the reason for Serena's anger and wonders if she really loves the Commander.

Analysis

Atwood appears to blend her own persona with that of Offred as Offred expresses her regrets for the hesitations, distractions, and rapid-fire articulation of the preceding chapters. Offred's tale, recalling the "fried food" heavy hours of incarceration becomes "a body caught in crossfire or pulled apart by force." Atwood seems to apologize for the fragmentary nature of her fable, and her seeming intrusion as a pseudo-voice in the telling of Gilead's agony is actually an artful method of bringing the story to its end. Like a true friend, Offred regrets "this sad and hungry and sordid, this limping and mutilated story" and hopes to hear the reader's experiences, "if I meet you or if you escape, in the future or in heaven or in prison or underground, some other place."

The poignancy of Offred's dehumanization echoes against the solid walls, both social and physical, that shut her out of personhood. To maintain a shred of sanity, she copes with madness through her affair with Nick and clings to a fantasized form of what Martin Buber refers to as the I-Thou relationship. "I believe you're there," she asserts, almost like whistling in the dark. "I believe you into being," she admits. In torment, she confesses having sought sexual intimacy repeatedly as though "there will never be any more, for either of us, with anyone, ever." With no moral precepts to guide her choices, Offred, a basically decent, monogamous woman, functions as best she can in the spiritual wasteland that Gilead epitomizes and blames herself for the fading of Luke's image. In face of senseless barbarity and threat of physical and spiritual annihilation, she chants an existential mantra, "I am, I am."

Glossary

I tell, therefore you are a rephrasing of Rene Descartes' I think, therefore I am."

The bell is tolling an allusion to John Donne's Meditation XVII, which includes the phrase therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Christmas crèche a manger scene displaying the Holy Family.

Bestow an ironic usage of a biblical synonym for give.

Particicution execution by dismemberment.

Deuteronomy 22:23-29 the exacting Mosaic law governing punishment for rape of a virgin.

Word perfect the trademark of a popular computer word processing program.

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