The Handmaid's Tale By Margaret Atwood Summary and Analysis Chapter 15 - Night

Summary

At the window of her room, Offred ponders her disgrace. She weighs her alternatives:

  • suffocation by setting the house on fire
  • escape via a rope of bedsheets draped out the shatterproof window
  • confession to the Commander and a plea for mercy
  • hanging by bedsheets in the closet
  • a surprise attack on Serena, whose murder would also end Offred's life through the resulting execution
  • escape out the door and down the street as far as Offred can flee in her giveaway red habit
  • sanctuary in Nick's room

The unforeseen arrival of a black police van deepens Offred's dread. Suddenly, Nick enters her room and urges her to go with agents from Mayday. Clutching at his call for trust, she exits with two unidentified men. On her way through the foyer, she passes Serena and the Commander, who demands a warrant for so abrupt and irregular an intrusion into his home. Offred's escort claims that she has violated state secrets. Serena calls her a bitch; Cora weeps.

Analysis

Unable to assess her situation, Offred faces a dilemma. Without Ofglen's ties to Mayday and lacking the sympathy and assistance of Serena, Offred has little choice but to trust that the van that takes her away is truly part of a bogus arrest and that she is entering light rather than darkness. The ambiguity of this final view of Offred leaves many questions:

  • Is she being rescued or betrayed?
  • What is her destination?
  • Is she pregnant with Nick's child?
  • Is Nick a member of the Eyes or a double agent for Mayday?
  • Will Offred be reunited with any of her family, assuming that they are still alive?
  • What is her real name?

The reader's immersion at this point in the novel is what Aristotle refers to as "the willing suspension of disbelief," a bonding with a fictional character who is so believable that he or she is perceived as real. So palpable are Offred's humanity and need that her disappearance into the van suggests a kind of death, both physical and spiritual. So empty is her store of emotional strength that the reader must confront honest doubts that she survives the wiliness and duplicity of the Eyes of Gilead.

Glossary

Nick, the private Eye a pun linking the chauffeur with Nick Charles, sleuth in The Thin Man, a popular 1934 movie starring William Powell, with Myrna Loy portraying Nora, his wife and sidekick. Peter Lawford reprised the role in a television series of the same name.

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