The Handmaid’s Tale


Margaret Atwood

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on The Handmaid’s Tale makes teaching easy.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Offred walks through the garden on the way to the shops. The red tulips have bloomed 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, who has arthritis in her left foot, also passes time sewing and knitting elaborate, childish scarves for the Angels at war. Offred imagines that maybe the scarves aren’t actually used, but just unwoven into yarn again.
Serena Joy spends her time with two traditionally feminine hobbies that are related to fertility. The garden’s rampant blooming stands in contrast to the sterile world of Gilead, and the tulips’ color links them to Offred. The childish scarves show Serena Joy’s desire to create and protect.
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Fertility 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 advice to be empathetic. Serena Joy smokes an illegal cigarette. They talk, and we learn that this is Offred’s third assignment to a Commander. Serena Joy says that they should interact as little as possible, and that this is strictly business, which disappoints Offred, who longs for a closer familial connection. Offred’s quiet, obedient answers remind herself of a talking doll.
Offred filters her first encounter with Serena Joy through an additional layer of memory, which shows that she finds the scene important enough to dwell on. Serena Joy comes off as a hypocrite, both firmly upholding the Gilead law that the Handmaid and Wife should be separate, and rebelling by smoking a cigarette.
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Rebellion Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory 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 Joy was an emotional, beautiful singer.
Strangely, in light of her rebellious cigarette, we learn that Serena Joy made religion her life even before Gilead.
Religion and Theocracy Theme Icon