The Handmaid’s Tale

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Serena Joy Character Analysis

Also known as the Commander’s Wife, she is unable to have children and therefore requires Offred’s services. Before Gilead, she was a singer who became famous on TV for her emotional Christian music. She also used to give speeches about how women ought to be housewives. During the novel, she occupies her time gardening with Nick’s help, and knitting elaborate scarves for soldiers, despite her arthritis. For much of the novel, she resentfully ignores Offred, but towards the end she encourages Offred to try to get pregnant by having sex with Nick.
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Serena Joy Character Timeline in The Handmaid’s Tale

The timeline below shows where the character Serena Joy appears in The Handmaid’s Tale. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fertility Theme Icon
...and look, to Offred, as though they’ve been cut and are healing. The Commander’s Wife, Serena Joy , takes care of the garden, with the aid of a Guardian (Nick). Serena Joy,... (full context)
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Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Offred recalls five weeks ago, when she arrived at the house. In her flashback, Serena Joy herself, identifiable by her blue Commander’s Wife robes, opens the door. Offred remembers Aunt Lydia’s... (full context)
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Still in the flashback to five weeks ago, Offred remembers why Serena Joy looks familiar: from a religious television program called the Growing Souls Gospel hour, where Serena... (full context)
Chapter 6
Fertility Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Offred sees Serena Joy sitting in the garden, and thinks that her name sounds stupid, like a hair product.... (full context)
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Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Offred looks at Serena Joy ’s sunken profile as she passes. Her face reminds Offred of fallen towns. Offred recalls... (full context)
Chapter 10
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
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...her mother’s cassettes. The only other music in the house is Rita’s occasional humming, or Serena Joy illegally listening to recordings of her young self singing religious songs. (full context)
Chapter 12.
Fertility Theme Icon
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...because she has no place to hide it. She imagines the luxury and freedom of Serena Joy ’s dinner downstairs. Offred carefully saves a piece of butter, which she plans to use... (full context)
Chapter 14
Fertility Theme Icon
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...the eye-like mirror. She kneels in the sitting room. The room is luxuriously decorated in Serena Joy ’s mixed style of quality and sentimentality. Serena Joy’s perfume, Lily of the Valley, smells... (full context)
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...his foot to Offred’s. Nick touches again and Offred moves again, unsure of his intentions. Serena Joy arrives in a flower-trimmed dress, but Offred thinks that Serena Joy should accept that she’s... (full context)
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
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The Commander is late, so Serena Joy turns on the TV news, which shows the Angels attacking the Baptists in the Appalachians.... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...the present time, the Commander finishes reading. Offred imagines the bible pages feeling powder-paper makeup. Serena Joy silently cries. As Offred prays “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum,” she remembers seeing Moira carried to... (full context)
Chapter 16
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fertility Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Offred lies on her back on Serena Joy ’s canopy bed, clothed except for her underpants. The bed’s draperies look like ship’s sails,... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
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After coming, the Commander leaves quickly and politely, which Offred finds somehow funny. Serena Joy makes Offred leave immediately, although she’s supposed to lie down for ten minutes to increase... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...previously instructed her. Offred is powerfully aware of the illegality of this action, and how Serena Joy would punish her. Still, Offred knows that she now has some amount of power over... (full context)
Rebellion Theme Icon
...illegal, as risky as a drug. And she knows that the Commander can’t play with Serena Joy . They play two games—she wins the first, then lets him win. Offred loves the... (full context)
Chapter 25
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...now it’s summertime, and the tulips are gone. Returning from a grocery trip, Offred sees Serena Joy cutting off the tulips’ seed pods, destroying the fruit to make next year’s flowers better.... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...Offred walks by, or wearing his hat incorrectly. Offred finds it difficult to sneak around Serena Joy , and sometimes can’t make the appointments. Sometimes Serena Joy goes out at night to... (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
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...else to show it to, Offred boldly suggested that he could have shown it to Serena Joy . The Commander explained that he and his wife didn’t communicate, and Offred understood why... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Offred feels that she’s become a traditional-type mistress to the Commander. She thinks that maybe Serena Joy even knows about it and lets it happen to take away some of the burden... (full context)
Chapter 27
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The two Handmaids pass a chain store called Soul Scrolls. Customers, including Serena Joy , can remotely order one of five prayers, which the machines pronounce aloud and print... (full context)
Chapter 31
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Serena Joy sits knitting in the garden, and calls to Offred as she walks by. Serena Joy... (full context)
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Serena Joy tells Offred that she’s running out of time for a baby, and then daringly suggests... (full context)
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Offred asks about the Commander, and Serena Joy says it’ll be a secret. Offred says it’s risky, but agrees quickly. Serena Joy encourages... (full context)
Chapter 32
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...gives Rita the groceries and asks for a match. Rita is annoyed, but won’t disobey Serena Joy ’s instructions. Then Rita eats one of the ice cubes on the table, and offers... (full context)
Chapter 35
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Finally someone knocks at Offred’s door, but it’s Serena Joy with a photo, not Cora with dinner. Offred examines the Polaroid of her daughter, looking... (full context)
Chapter 36
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...He gives her some old makeup to apply, and then a blue hooded cloak of Serena Joy ’s. (full context)
Chapter 40
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...dressed again in her red robe. The searchlights are off, fortunately or maybe on purpose. Serena Joy comes at midnight and leads her through the house, and gives her instructions on getting... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...a reconstruction and “the way love feels is always approximate.” During the sex, she imagined Serena Joy judging her for being easy. Afterward, she felt she’d betrayed Luke by responding so enthusiastically. (full context)
Chapter 41
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Offred describes how she started to spend a lot of time with Nick, without Serena Joy ’s endorsement. She did it for selfish reasons, always thankful to him for receiving her.... (full context)
Chapter 45
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Serena Joy comes angrily out of the house, and Offred knows she’s in trouble for something, though... (full context)
Chapter 46
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...in front of the Commander, or hang herself in the closet. She also imagines kicking Serena Joy in the head, just like Ofglen did at the Particicution. She imagines walking calmly into... (full context)
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
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Serena Joy and the Commander look surprised. They didn’t call the Eyes. Serena Joy asks what Offred... (full context)
Historical Notes on the Handmaid’s Tale
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Both Judd and Waterford were sterile. Waterford’s wife Thelma had worked on television like Serena Joy . Waterford seems to be more likely to be the Commander. The authorities killed him... (full context)