Summary and Analysis
Offred returns to her room and determines to abandon her reveries of the past and live in the present. Obeying Aunt Lydia's injunction to manipulate men to her advantage, Offred ponders how to bargain for something she needs. Her thoughts turn to women killed in Nazi Germany. As she begins to undress, hysteria grips her emotions. To halt the noise and escape questions and potential extermination by pill or injection, she hides in the cupboard and fingers the scratched message left by her predecessor. Gradually, her breathing returns to normal.
Offred's comparisons between the Commander and Hitler are rich with dramatic irony. When rationalizing the camps and the ovens used to rid the Third Reich of anyone whom the Nazis considered unfit citizens, Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress, denied the existence of the machinery of annihilation. She blamed the annihilation of Jews on the exigencies of the times rather than any inherent brutishness in her lover. Her memories of gentle behaviors include his "endearing traits" — for example, whistling off-key in the shower and feeding his dog bits of raw steak. Atwood homes in on a deft barrage of double meanings:
showers the phony hygienic measures that turned out to be outlets for Zyklon-B, a poisonous gas used to kill victims of the SS.
truffles a scarce, edible fungus that is hunted by trained pigs, an evocative image that suggests Hitler's use of the SS to rout out Jews who were in hiding. Implicit in the connection between truffles and pigs is the fact that orthodox Jews refuse to eat pork.
Leibchen a show of affection toward a dog that masks Hitler's monstrous actions toward millions of human victims.
raw steak a symbol of the Third Reich's destruction of victims.
melted a term evocative of the efficient ovens at Auschwitz and other death camps, which filled the skies with the smoke of burning corpses.
nightmare an apt term to summarize Hitler's master plan to rid Germany of undesirables.
make-up a covering of Eva Braun's true feelings about her lover.
Context is all a paraphrase from Shakespeare's King Lear: "Ripeness is all" (V, ii, 9). The requests for a game of Scrabble and a kiss, under normal circumstances, would not seem bizarre, but in the context of Gilead, the Commander's desires appear perverted and racy.
the man had been cruel and brutal an allusion to Adolf Hitler, credited with orchestrating the annihilation of over six million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, retardates, handicapped, and elderly victims, whom he considered detrimental to the breeding of his Master Race.
the mistress an allusion to Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress, who is thought to have committed suicide with her lover.
Lichchen German diminutive for darling.
the wandering womb an ancient Greek explanation for female hysteria, which derives from the Greek hystera, or womb