The Handmaid’s Tale


Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Chapter 32 Summary & Analysis

Offred 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 one to Offred in an unexpectedly friendly gesture. Offred can’t wait to smoke her cigarette, but she realizes she could also save the match, and burn down the house someday.
All of a sudden, the women who normally neglect Offred are changing their tunes. Unfortunately, this means that Ofglen’s newfound friendship may diminish in importance to Offred. Why rebel when everyone’s so nice?
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Offred flashes back to the previous night. The Commander drinks in front of her and then makes up words in Scrabble, or sits below her like a child. Ofglen told Offred that he’s very high-ranking. Last night, the Commander explained to Offred that one of the problems before Gilead was that the men didn’t have feelings anymore, because sexual gratification was so easily obtainable, via porn or prostitution. Now, he says, men can feel again.
The Commander’s childlike position both references Offred’s tragedy and the Commander’s innocence (or willful blindness) about Gilead’s bad qualities. He may believe that in this new society men can feel again, but his relationship with his wife is failing and the sex is horrible.
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The Commander asks for Offred’s opinion on what the Gilead has done. Offred says she has no opinion, but lets him know her feelings by asking if he considers Gilead “better.” The Commander explains that “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”—there will always be pros and cons. Back in the present time, Offred lies in bed, wishing for a thunderstorm, because then she could go be afraid with Rita and Cora. She imagines the former Handmaid hanging from the ceiling, safe from further harm.
The Commander’s explanation of Gilead leaves out religion. Religion was just a means to an end. He imagines that Gilead was founded to help men get over their sexual issues—and he believes that’s a good reason! The Commander’s explanation reveals his own anxieties, but also demonstrates how sexism can come from fear of women’s power, not just disdain for their weakness.
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