The Handmaid’s Tale

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The Eye Symbol Icon
The novel is filled with eyes, which represent key topics like paranoia, surveillance, and Gilead’s authority. The Eyes are the terrifying, violent and secretive enforcers of Gilead’s laws. As Offred worries that anyone she meets, from the doctor to Ofglen, might be an Eye, she also sees eyes everywhere, from a tour guide’s badge to her own ankle tattoo. The most complex eye in the book is the plastered-over light socket in Offred’s room, which Offred imagines as a blinded eye. Later she learns that the previous Handmaid hanged herself from the light fixture that used to be there, so that blinded eye comes to signify death and freedom as well.

The Eye Quotes in The Handmaid’s Tale

The The Handmaid’s Tale quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Eye. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender Roles Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Houghton Mifflin Company edition of The Handmaid’s Tale published in 1986.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Waste not want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want?

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Eye
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Having recalled the time she spent sleeping in the gymnasium of the Red Center, Offred has moved on to describe a second room, which we later learn is her bedroom in the Commander's house. She has detailed the sparse furnishings and the plastered-over light socket in the ceiling, which reminds her of an eye socket. Offred notes that the rug looks like "folk art," reflective of a cultural preference for artifacts that are handmade by women. She observes that this reflects "a return to traditional values" and the principle "waste not want not." Offred's statement that she is not being wasted highlights the way in which women are used like tools or instruments in Gilead, treated as objects with no value beyond their designated function, which, for Offred, is her fertility. 

Once again, Offred invokes the moral disdain for desire, and particularly desire felt by women. She expresses the view that because she is "not being wasted," it is strange or illogical that she should "want." This reveals that Offred has internalized the idea that women are more like objects than people, and that it is abnormal or morally wrong for women to experience the most basic human emotions, including desire. Her use of a well-known saying highlights how deeply embedded this idea is within the culture of Gilead. 

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Chapter 46 Quotes

And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.

Related Characters: Offred (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Eye
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

The Eye van has arrived at the Commander's house to take Offred away, and Offred is terrified, wishing that she had killed herself while she had the chance. However, Nick has told her that the people in the van are actually members of the Resistance posing as Eyes; this is somewhat supported by the fact that they refuse to tell the Commander and Serena Joy why they are arresting Offred (although this is not conclusive). The final sentence of Offred's narrative describes her getting in the van, unsure if she is stepping into darkness or light. "Darkness" in this passage symbolizes suffering, death, and the meaninglessness of Offred's life if she is indeed killed by the state. "Light" is hope, morality, and the possibility of escape from Gilead, or even the end of the regime altogether.

This final sentence leaves the reader unsure of Offred's fate; given everything else that has happened in the novel, it seems almost equally likely that Offred will die or be saved. This ambiguity is connected to the novel's ambivalent presentation of human nature. Every major character in the narrative has the capacity to act in a cruel and selfish way, while also possessing at least some redeeming features. Offred's unknown destiny thus emphasizes the fact that people's behavior is difficult to predict, and the fate of the world is thus equally hard to determine. 

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The Eye Symbol Timeline in The Handmaid’s Tale

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Eye appears in The Handmaid’s Tale. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Rebellion Theme Icon
...plastered-over hole in the ceiling, formerly for a chandelier, that reminds her of an empty eye socket. Offred remembers Aunt Lydia telling her to think of her life as being in... (full context)
Chapter 4
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...risky move that she could report to the authorities, and fears he might be an Eye. (full context)
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 5
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
The interpreter, with a winged eye pin, asks if the tourists can take pictures of Offred and Ofglen. Offred denies the... (full context)
Chapter 7
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...and the passive word lay, and the latter’s sexual connotations. She lies under the plastered-over eye in the ceiling, deciding on a memory to explore now that she has her private... (full context)
Chapter 8
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...Econowives gesture rudely, disliking Handmaids. Offred and Ofglen part with the official goodbye, “Under His Eye.” Ofglen seems to want to say something else, but doesn’t. (full context)
Rebellion Theme Icon
...pausing to enjoy the light through the stained glass. The convex mirror looks like an eye to her. The Commander is standing outside her room, which he’s never done before. He... (full context)
Chapter 11
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fertility Theme Icon
...her pass to the armed nurse. The examination room has a red screen with an eye painted on it. Offred takes off her clothes and lies on the table, with a... (full context)
Chapter 12.
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
...are limited. She looks at her tattoo on her ankle, with four numbers and an eye, which ensures she will always be identifiable. She dresses but doesn’t put on the wings,... (full context)
Chapter 14
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Offred goes downstairs, passing the eye-like mirror. She kneels in the sitting room. The room is luxuriously decorated in Serena Joy’s... (full context)
Chapter 15
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Fertility Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...imagine his point of view, scrutinized like this. She imagines his penis as a slug eye. She knows he’s very powerful, and can’t tell if his position is fine or hellish.... (full context)
Chapter 17
Rebellion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Offred lies in bed, imagining the plastered eye in her ceiling staring at her. She looks at the moon and profoundly misses Luke,... (full context)
Chapter 20
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
...school. She thinks of the camera lens, as seen by primitive populations, as a “glass eye.” But instead of anthropological movies, Aunt Lydia shows sadistic porn and even a movie of... (full context)
Chapter 22
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fertility Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...the Birth, Offred goes to her room, exhausted. Today the plaster wreath around the plaster eye in her ceiling looks like a hat with a garland of flowers and fruits. She... (full context)
Chapter 27
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...of them could be Luke. Offred thinks about the university campus, now belonging to the Eyes. She imagines the murals of Victory and Death inside of the main library. (full context)
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Offred and Ofglen fearfully watch the approach of a black van with the winged eye symbol painted on it. Two Eyes come out, grab a man on the street, somehow... (full context)
Chapter 31
Rebellion Theme Icon
Ofglen says the Eyes now eat at the hall. She tells Offred about the Resistance movement’s password, “Mayday,” which... (full context)
Chapter 46
Rebellion Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
...stands, maybe planning to do something, and sees that a black van with the winged eye logo has come to the house. Two men come out and ring the doorbell. Offred... (full context)
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Serena Joy and the Commander look surprised. They didn’t call the Eyes. Serena Joy asks what Offred did, and they don’t say. The Commander asks for a... (full context)
Rebellion Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
The two Eyes help Offred get into the van. She knows she can’t do anything else, and so... (full context)
Historical Notes on the Handmaid’s Tale
Rebellion Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...banned magazines and books and for hosting a rebel, probably Nick. Nick was probably an Eye as well as a member of the Resistance. Though the Commander would have known that... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...have killed Offred to protect himself, but he got her to escape with the rebel Eyes instead. (full context)