Summary and Analysis
The urgent need for human contact forces Offred into the past, when she and Luke lay in bed as their unborn child kicked in her mother's womb. Three unsubstantiated visions of Luke flash onto Offred's mental screen:
- Luke lying in underbrush, his soft tissue decayed, leaving a skeleton and evidence of bullet holes through the skull. Offred prays that at least one shot ended Luke's agony in a single, brief spasm.
- Luke captured and held in prison, his hair and beard ragged, his appearance ten years older than she remembers him. His rights denied, he remains imprisoned without formal arraignment and refuses to tell his captors what they want to know.
- Luke swimming across the river into Canada and welcomed by Quakers, who dress him warmly. They smuggle him from house to house until he reaches the U.S. government-in-exile.
The motif of rescue is a common thread in books by and about women — for example, Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, Farewell to Manzanar, Beloved, and The Kitchen God's Wife. Atwood, who is too determined, too realistic a feminist to accord all the credit to male characters, follows Charlotte Bronte, Margaret Mitchell, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Toni Morrison, and Amy Tan in emphasizing the main character's reliance on self rather than on a fantasized savior — that is, Superman swooping down to save Lois Lane or Dudley Do-Right rescuing the hapless Nell. For Offred, the way out comes from within. While she chafes at her powerlessness and remains candid about her chances of survival, she allows her mind to fondle and caress memories of Luke, but concerns herself with the loss of love rather than with the absence of a protector.
Analyzing the torpor that immobilizes the spirit of Gilead, Offred concludes, "Nobody dies from lack of sex. It's lack of love we die from." Her mental anguish repeatedly frames her imagined pictures of Luke. She toys with her beliefs — that Luke died instantly; that he survives in prison and can feel her thoughts, which she transmits telepathically; that he will some day get a message to her, urging her to be patient and that he will one day reunite their family. In a simulation of the Christian Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — the three-in-one vision of Luke impels Offred to "believe in all of them, all three versions of Luke." Her ambivalence torments her in shifting contradictions: "This also is a belief of mine. This also may be untrue." Her mind fastens on standard Puritan gravestone symbolism: an anchor and an hourglass and the words In Hope. Offred ponders who did the hoping, the survivors or the corpse.
candles you would light to pray by an image suggesting Catholic worship, during which the devout light prayers and pray for the souls of loved ones, particularly those in Purgatory who have not yet reached Paradise. The metaphor suggests the limbo in which Offred's family existscut off from one another, possibly incarcerated, tortured, or dead.
In Hope the brief phrase suggests several biblical passages, particularly Psalm 16:9, an uplifting statement of trust that God promises joy and deliverance from suffering: "Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: My flesh also shall rest in hope.