The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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16 ‘She put her cigarette out, half-smoked […] one jab and one grind’ – The violence of the action is notable, as is the fact that she is wasting half a cigarette in front of Offred, who is not allowed them at all. Later, when she decides to involve Offred in her plans, she will give her one.

16 ‘So it was worse than I thought.’ – The realisation that the woman who, effectively, owns her, was a significant figure in the pre-Gilead evangelical religious right implies that Offred is in the power of someone who actually believes what the regime teaches. She cannot, therefore, hope for the slightest easing of the restrictions placed upon her.

Chapter Four

17 ‘I walk along the gravel path that divides the back lawn, neatly, like a hair parting’ – The chapter opening suggests an important motif: Offred – as Little Red Riding-Hood – must stay on the path, or she will die. Gilead is marked by neat and sharp divisions between its social and gender groups, and the neat ‘hair parting’ suggests, too, the well-groomed ‘alpha males’ who dominate the regime.

17 ‘Here and there are worms, evidence of the fertility of the soil, caught by the sun, half dead; flexible and pink, like lips.’ – In these early chapters, Offred seems to see images that verge on being sexual almost everywhere she looks. The contrast between the earth’s fertility and human sterility is also a frequent theme.

17 ‘Whirlwind […] Chariot […] Behemoth’ – Car names, like so much else in Gilead, derive from the Bible. Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind after seeing the ‘Chariot of God’. ‘Behemoth’ is taken from Job 40, where the term describes a large and powerful mythological land animal.

17 ‘the way men caress good cars’ – These automobiles imply status, power and, ironically, a degree of sexual potency.

17 ‘he hasn’t been issued a woman’ – This is an important piece of information for the reader; Offred’s comment also implies a mild degree of sexual interest.

18 ‘Despite myself, I think of how he might smell.’ – confirming Offred’s attraction to Nick and also echoing the ‘smell’ of ‘pungent sweat’ that is associated with ‘old sex’ on the first page of the novel.

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