Summary and Analysis
Cora's scream awakens Offred, who pretends that she fainted in the closet. Cora, hoping that fainting is proof of pregnancy, conceals from Rita the fact that breakfast, which Cora dropped on the floor, went uneaten. As a favor to Offred, Cora hides the evidence by flushing the wasted food down the toilet.
In May, Serena appears unaware of Offred's two or three visits per week to the Commander's office. Silently signaled by the off-center placement of Nick's cap, the summons to a night rendezvous draws Offred on tiptoe past Serena's room, where she knits "useless wool people" on an endless series of scarves. Offred plays Scrabble again and receives a gift — a copy of a 1970s Vogue magazine. On the third office visit, she asks for hand lotion. He seems surprised that she has no private place to hide valuables.
Copulation rites grow more burdensome when Offred becomes better acquainted with the Commander as she advances from the utilitarian role of concubine to the more titillating status of mistress. She fears that Serena will find out about the night visits and exert the Wife's power over the Handmaid. Outside an automated prayer office, lurking fears cause Offred to guard her questions about God and prayers from Ofglen and to experience relief when secret agents apprehend an unidentified man — anyone except her. Offred continues visiting the Commander and learns that Serena discovered that the Handmaid before Offred was also enjoying secret visits to the den. As Offred gains confidence, she asks the Commander to tell her about the political situation in Gilead.
Atwood utilizes nature imagery for multiple purposes. The passage of time is obvious by what is in bloom — tulips and daffodils of spring give place to the irises, peonies, pinks, and carnations of May. Serena Joy, kneeling in her garden, snips off seedpods, which, if left on the stem, sap the strength of the next crop of blossoms. Later, the fragrance of overripe flowers signals the end of their season. These metaphors of dismemberment, procreative power, and decay reflect the quandary of Offred, who must soon conceive or suffer dire consequences, possibly as an Unwoman in the Colonies. Amid full-plumed willows, spring turf, and birdcalls, Offred ponders goddesses and desire and fears for the safety of her melon-like ripeness, which caused a barrier guard a moment's giddiness.
The clandestine evening meetings with the Commander take on a peculiarly sensual atmosphere. Like a voyeur, he watches Offred page through a copy of a high-fashion magazine and observes her as she smoothes her hands and face with lotion. These non-sexual intimacies worsen the burden of the Ceremony, which suddenly seems "indecorous, an embarrassing breach of propriety." The Commander, too, loses his objectivity and nearly caresses Offred during their ritual copulation, an unseemly act that could cause her deportation to the Colonies and certain death from radioactive debris. In a moment of ambivalence toward human warmth in a cold, passionless state, Offred acknowledges that becoming the Commander's mistress has advanced her to a status that is more than "a useable body." She concludes, "To him I am not merely empty."
fetish a bizarre or perverse psychological obsession — such as a focus on hair, shoes, revealing lingerie, or body odor — to relieve an erotic need.
something Renaissance about the pose models depicting bold, selfconfident attitudes,
We don't seem to have much in common a humorous twist on a cliche common to the seductive line of seducers in novels, movies, and television soap operas
Colonies those areas beyond Gilead that are permeated with radioactive toxins. Clean-up crews consist of incorrigibles, old or sterile women, and other expendable citizens not suited to the rigid caste system of a theocracy or the need for state breeders.
Loaves and Fishes a food store named for Christ's miracle described in Matthew 14:17 of expanding five loaves and two fish to feed a multitude of hungry people.
Daily Bread a reference to a line from the Lord's Prayer, found in Matthew 6-11.
Women's Salvagings a public execution presided over and carried out by women, which is acted out in Chapter 14.
Romanesque architecture that emphasizes rounded arches and vaults, piers, and arcades.
Soul Scrolls an automated print shop that publishes prayers "for health, wealth, a death, a birth, a sin."
Holy Rollers a derisive term applied to energetic religious groups, primarily Pentecostal, who dance, shout, embrace, testify, and speak gibberish during spiritual ecstasy.
Tibetan prayer wheels cylinders containing written prayers used by devout Buddhists as an adjunct to worship.
Identipasses in-town visas; an unconstitutional restriction on personal freedom.
Pornomarts distributors of pornography.
Feels on Wheels vans and Bun-Die Buggies vehicles carrying prostitution to the streets.
Compunumber a credit registration number, a means by which the religious right controls Gilead's apathetic citizens.
an F on it instead of an M letters denoting gender of cardholders.
Ours is not to reason why a paraphrase of a line from Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade," a way poem describing the pointless deaths of soldiers dispatched into battle against impossible odds.
paranoid excessively suspicious or mistrustful.
semaphore a coded system of flag movements used at sea for ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore communication.
Hard Times a key novel by Charles Dickens depicting the blatant human exploitation common during England's Industrial Revolution.
Pen is Envy a pun on "penis envy," a concept of Sigmund Freud to account for negative behavior that women express against men.
sum es est, sumus estis sunt a lesson in beginning Latin, which translates, "I am, you are, he is, we are, you are, they are."