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The Handmaid's Tale Summary and Analysis
by Margaret Atwood
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V: Nap - VI: Household
This section begins with Offred simply sitting alone, waiting. She had not been prepared for all this stillness, all of this boredom. She thinks about experiments they used to do on animals, how they would give them something to distract them. She wishes she had something to distract her. She lies down on the floor and begins to do her exercises, tilting her ...view middle of the document...
She realizes that she has been crying in her sleep. She goes downstairs into the sitting room and kneels beside the chair where Serena Joy will sit, her assigned place. She waits, thinking about all of the signs of money in this room. She smells Serena Joy's perfume nostalgically; perfume is now a luxury. She thinks about how much she would like to steal something small from this room, to have something for herself. Rita and Cora come in and get to work; both of them have small roles in the Ceremony. Nick comes in and stands too close to Offred. His shoe is touching hers. She tries to move away, but he moves closer.
Serena Joy comes in wearing one of her nicest dresses and turns on the television. Offred looks forward to the Ceremony because only on this night does she get to watch the news. Even though she knows it is probably all fake, it is still something to do, something to learn. The newscaster speaks of beating back the Baptist army, arresting Quakers who were smuggling women into Canada, and resettling the black people in North Dakota, where they are supposed to farm. Finally, Serena Joy turns off the television. As they sit, Offred thinks about her name - the name she is no longer allowed to use. She remembers getting into the car, her daughter in the backseat. She had told her daughter that they were going on a picnic, and had planned to tell the guards on the border that they were just taking a day trip. They had fake passports and fake visas. She remembers being afraid even after they passed the first checkpoint.
The Commander knocks on the door as he is supposed to, but enters before Serena Joy gives him permission. He takes a Bible out of a box. It is locked away so that the women cannot read it. He asks for a drink of water, and someone goes to fetch it. Everyone watches him. Offred thinks about how strange it must be to be a man watched by women all the time, even when he is inside one, looking inside her with his extra eye. He reads the usual stories, including the one about Rachel and Leah, in which Rachel tells her husband to use her maid Bilbah, saying "she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her." At the Center they heard that story at breakfast, and the Beatitudes at lunch. Offred knew that they had changed the facts in the stories, but she could not prove it.
She remembers meeting Moira in the washroom. Moira told her that she was going to try to escape by faking illness. She said that she knew how to give herself scurvy by not eating vitamin C. Offred told Moira not to do such a thing, but Moira ignored her. She snaps out of her reverie to listen to the Commander, who is continuing with the story. Serena Joy is crying as always. During the silent prayer, she whispers the Latin words written in her closet by the woman she believes was like Moira, though she does not know what they mean. It was at dinner that she had learned that Moira had gone away. Then she saw the ambulance come back. They took...