The Handmaid’s Tale

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The Handmaid’s Tale Chapter 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Commander brings Offred up to a hotel room at Jezebel’s. Offred uses the bathroom and flashes back to her conversation with Moira. Moira saw Offred’s mother in one of the videos about the Colonies, which Moira thinks is a fate worse than death. Offred flashes back further, unable to remember the last time she saw her mother. It would have been a casual encounter at Offred’s apartment. When the situation got worse, Offred tried to call her mother, to no response.
Offred’s mother always appears in videos at the right time—she also showed up in a feminist protest video in Chapter 20. This seeming coincidence, like re-encountering Moira, may indicate either that Offred’s mother was an important enemy, or that Gilead is smaller and weaker than it pretends.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Offred spoke to the superintendent of her mother’s apartment, and then Luke drove her over to check the place. They opened up the apartment and found evidence that it had been violently searched. Offred wanted to call the police, but Luke told her not to.
Apparently, Offred’s mother was a particular target of Gilead. Offred’s naïve desire to call the police shows her willingness to do anything for a loved one.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Offred remembers how, during college, Moira said she thought Offred’s mother was “neat” and even “cute.” Now Offred imagines her mother cleaning up toxic waste. She wants to believe that her mother will manage to get out, but knows that she won’t.
As she did at the end of Chapter 38, Offred falls into a rare moment of hopelessness. She has Ofglen, and soon Nick, to talk to and rebel with, but her old life is vanishing.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Back at the hotel, Offred looks in the mirror at her messy, garish outfit. Tomorrow’s the Ceremony, so she must be back by midnight to have her first sex with Nick. She exits the bathroom and joins the Commander on the bed. He touches Offred, but she just asks why he brought her. He says it’s because she claimed to want to know. He takes off his shirt, which Offred finds sad. She doesn’t respond to him, and sees he’s “dismayed and no doubt disappointed.” She tries to fake arousal.
Though in previous meetings Offred enjoyed her time with the Commander (and even felt embarrassed to admit to Ofglen that they weren’t having sex), now that they do have sex, her positivity is gone. Despite his bad behavior, here the Commander comes off as tragic and pitiable.
Themes
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
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