The Handmaids enter Harvard’s campus for a district Salvaging. They walk past Angels in riot gear and enter the quadrangle in front of the main library, where graduations used to take place. Now there’s a stage with three nooses. Offred only attended a Women’s Salvaging once before, two years ago. Two Handmaids and one Wife are on the stage to be “salvaged.” They may be drugged into complacency.
An execution and a college graduation seem to be totally different.in every way. But from another point of view, keeping in mind the “Historical Notes” at the book’s end, the novel may be critiquing the self-congratulatory exclusivity and aloofness of academia.
Aunt Lydia comes onto the stage and Offred hates her. She gives a speech about duty, and then announces that she will not be explaining what the women on stage did wrong, so as not to lead to copycat crimes. This upsets the Handmaids, who like to know the kinds of crimes they too could commit. The Handmaids might be there for attempted murder of their Commanders or Wives. And the Wife may be there for attempted murder of a Handmaid, adultery, or escape.
This scene illustrates the extent to which the Handmaids rely on rebellions, like Moira’s, to give them ideas to fantasize about. At the same time, Aunt Lydia’s explanation that the discussion of crimes might lead to more bad behavior could be encouraging because it shows that Gilead still lacks total control.
The Salvagers prepare to hang Ofcharles, and someone behind Offred, maybe Janine, according to Ofglen, seems to vomit. As the women is hanged, the Handmaids in the audience put their hands on a rope in the grass connected to a noose, to show that they’re taking part in the execution.
The Handmaids symbolically hang the women themselves, just as, in Chapter 13, they bond together to scold Janine. Gilead perversely uses peer pressure and herd mentality to create unity among women, but for the purposes of policing and punishing others.