The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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4 ‘we still had our bodies’ – Cf. the Sufi proverb discussed above. Women in Gilead have lost all power to men. The only thing they have to offer – at least theoretically – is their sexual attractiveness and their reproductive capacity. The novel later implies, however, that this is something of an oversimplification. The Commander wishes for something other than this from Offred, and it can be assumed from his actions that Nick also comes to feel strong emotions for her.

4 ‘Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.’ – As is frequently noted, the first four of these handmaids go on to play at least some part in the novel’s narrative. ‘June’, who is mentioned last, does not, and it is reasonable to assume it is Offred’s real name. The denial of a name to a female fictional character is an occasional trope used by authors to imply the crushing real or psychological oppression that can destroy another person’s identity. It is found, for example, in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and, most significantly for The Handmaid’s Tale , in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper. It can be assumed that all the other female names employed are pseudonyms, since it appears from the ‘Historical Notes’ at the end of the book that Offred/June has even protected ‘Serena Joy’/Pam in this way. Her ‘real’ name was, apparently, ‘Thelma’.

II – Shopping
Chapter Two


7 ‘Above on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in the centre of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where an eye has been taken out.’ – The Handmaid’s Tale commonly uses the image of a single eye in a way reminiscent of George Orwell’s ‘Big Brother is watching you’ from Nineteen Eighty-Four . It is later revealed that the original light fitting was used by Offred’s predecessor to hang herself from – hence the description of the ceiling rose as a ‘wreath’. Offred’s dead double is a strong presence in the room, even before Offred learns of her suicide. The idea of removing a single eye may be a reference of Jesus’ words: ‘if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire’ (Matthew 18:9). If this is so, then the implication would be that Handmaids and others loyal citizens of Gilead should be willing even to accept mutilation if it is ‘God’s will’ that they do so.

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