The Handmaid’s Tale

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The Handmaid’s Tale Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Out of the flashback, Offred continues on her shopping trip. The path through the garden looks like a part in hair, and the worms remind Offred of fertility. The Guardian assigned to the Commander, Nick, polishes the Commander’s fancy Whirlwind car. Nick demonstrates a touch of irreverence by rolling up his uniform sleeves and smoking a black-market cigarette. He lives above the garage, but wasn’t given a woman, which shows his low rank.
Offred constantly sees signs of rebellion and of fertility, the two things most on her mind. Offred is clearly well trained in Gilead’s laws, since she even knows a Guardian’s uniform rules. Yet the more aware one is of Gilead’s rules, the more one notices how many people break them.
Themes
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Nick winks at Offred, which alarms her. She doesn’t understand the gesture, which is a risky move that she could report to the authorities, and fears he might be an Eye.
Gilead has successfully created an atmosphere of paranoia and fear so powerful that Offred polices herself.
Themes
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Offred waits at the corner, recalling Aunt Lydia’s advice to be patient and to imagine herself as a seed. She remembers children’s ballet classes, pretending to be a tree. Another red-clad handmaid, Ofglen, approaches, and they greet each other, saying, “Blessed be the fruit,” and “May the Lord open.” Offred knows that they’re together not for their own safety, but to spy on each other, and she thinks Ofglen might be a truly faithful Handmaid.
This moment also shows the extent to which Gilead has infiltrated Offred’s mind. Everything reminds her of Aunt Lydia, a sign of successful brainwashing. And rather than trust, people operate on a basis of suspicion, making connections difficult.
Themes
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
As the pair walks, Ofglen mentions how some rebel Baptists have been captured. The road is barricaded and heavily guarded, and the women must show passes to two green-clad Guardians of the Faith. The Guardians aren’t soldiers like the Angels, but take care of general policing and other lower-status tasks. Last week, the Guardians at a barricade shot a Martha, according to Cora and Rita’s gossip.
Little by little, Gilead’s rigidity is clarified. Not all Christians are seen as being good in Gilead, though we never learn exactly what sects Gilead approves of. Despite everyone’s casual rule-breaking, Offred’s paranoia seems justified because of the government’s casual attitude towards murder.
Themes
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
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The Guardians show respect to the Handmaids by saluting them. One of the Guardians looks around Offred’s wings at her face, a rebellious act that makes Offred imagine coming back to him secretly at night. Offred imagines that maybe he thinks about the same thing. Offred thinks about the secretive black vans of the Eyes, which can go through the barricades without pause. Ultimately, Offred decides that the Guardians probably think about nothing more than duty, promotion, and marriage.
As she did at the Rachel and Leah Center, Offred fantasizes about tempting the male guards with her body. She doesn’t imagine her own gratification, though—instead, she imagines having power, and making the men transgress. But Offred thinks that she’s the only one with such rebellious thoughts.
Themes
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Still, after passing the barricade Offred walks away in a seductive manner, enjoying her slight sense of power, and hoping that she’s aroused the men so much that they’ll suffer at night.
Offred has no empathy, and doesn’t want to rebel as part of a team effort to overthrow Gilead. Instead, she wants to inflict pain.
Themes
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon