The Handmaid’s Tale


Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

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, pregnant with air. Offred lies between Serena Joy’s (clothed) legs, and they hold hands. The Commander has sex with Offred’s lower body, in an impersonal, disjointed style, which Offred doesn’t call rape because she chose to be a Handmaid. The atmosphere is serious, as arousal, love, and kissing are unnecessary. Offred remembers her previous Commander, who smelled worse.
This scene is the meat of what being a Handmaid is all about—being a body, a receptacle for sex. Maybe unexpectedly, Offred doesn’t picture Luke or love, but remains emotionally removed, simply glad the current Commander doesn’t have a bad odor. In the moment when her imagination could have served her, she prefers seriousness.
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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 the chances of conception.
Serena Joy’s action shows that, for now, woman-on-woman hatred outweighs her desire to have a baby at all costs.
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