The Handmaid’s Tale

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The Handmaid’s Tale Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Offred and Ofglen return from their shopping trip, Ofglen asks to go by the church. Offred agrees, knowing that the motivation for going by the church isn’t actually religious. As they walk, Offred looks at the view in little bursts, restrained from full sight by the wings around her face. She remembers the former uses of her surroundings, the river, boathouse and student dormitories of the now defunct Harvard University. The football stadium is now used for Men’s Salvagings. Offred thinks about how people only want to remember the beautiful parts of the past.
Though Offred understands that people only want to remember good things, we will see that she also can’t help remembering bad things. Contradictorily, though her memories seem to be her last area of liberty, she is also plagued by involuntary memories of terrible events, all related to Gilead. Gilead has taken her present and her past.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Offred and Ofglen look at the small old church and graveyard. Ofglen seems to pray, and Offred can’t tell if it’s an act.
Offred’s an equal opportunity skeptic, suspecting people of being Eyes or rebels.
Themes
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Offred and Ofglen go to look at the real source of their interest, the red-brick Wall. Once the border of Harvard’s campus, now it’s barricaded and guarded like a prison wall, to keep the people inside from coming out. Six dead men hang along the wall, from the Men’s Salvaging. The faces are covered with white bags, which disturb Offred, reminding her of scarecrows, dolls, zeros or snowmen. One bag has red blood where the mouth would be underneath, which looks like a child’s drawing of a mouth.
For the first time, we see the violence that underlies Gilead’s government. Offred’s vivid imagination even links the dead men to children’s drawings, combining the themes of theocracy, fertility, and rebellion in one image. The government both eliminates life and hopes to create it.
Themes
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
The dead men wear white coats like doctors, and have signs around their necks indicating the reason for their execution: fetuses. They must have provided abortions before the Republic of Gilead, and some informant must have ratted them out to the government. Offred feels nothing for the men, but she’s glad they aren’t Luke.
Offred’s surprising callousness comes through again in this scene, like it did when she tried to tempt the checkpoint guards. She is immune to strangers’ suffering or a desire to support rebels.
Themes
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
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Offred looks at the bloody red smile on the bag again. The red reminds her of Serena Joy’s tulips, but she reminds herself that this is a coincidence, and that the blood and flowers are distinct phenomena, equally but separately valid.
This passage shows how Offred confuses memories and subjective impressions with reality. Superficial similarities (like the color red) seem to reveal deep truths.
Themes
Fertility Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Ofglen seems to be crying beside Offred. Offred isn’t sure if this is genuine emotion or just for show, and she doesn’t know what good such a show could do. She remembers Aunt Lydia saying that they will get used to Gilead and it will become ordinary.
Offred returns to worrying about one of her constant concerns. How can she distinguish between a true believer and a cautious faker?
Themes
Rebellion Theme Icon