The Handmaid’s Tale


Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Chapter 43 Summary & Analysis

Offred notices how the three hanged women look like dancers in the air. Aunt Lydia tells the Handmaids in the audience to form a circle, acting as though she’s giving them a gift. The Handmaids get excited, and Ofglen pulls Offred forward. Offred has a suspicion of what might happen, but can’t quite believe it. Aunt Lydia explains the minimalist Particicution rules—the women can do whatever they want after she whistles.
Aunt Lydia’s attention to the beauty and presentation of the dead bodies recalls her arranging the Handmaids during prayers (Chapter 30). The beautiful simile of dancers contrasts with the horror, much like how Offred sees the corpses as children’s drawings in Chapter 6.
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The Guardians drag up a tortured-looking man. Aunt Lydia explains that he’s a rapist, and references the bible to say that rapists should be punished by death. She says he raped two Handmaids, one of whom was pregnant and whose baby died. Offred feels overwhelmed with anger. Aunt Lydia blows the whistle, but the Handmaids wait, watching his pathetic gestures, and maybe even a little smile. He begins to say “I didn’t,” but then the women attack. Ofglen goes first and kicks him in the head.
Surprisingly, the Handmaids seem to preserve a bit of sympathy for the man, up until he tries to deny his actions. Maybe this is because the Handmaids are well acquainted with unwanted sex and men’s forceful desires, but not with signs of weakness, like this man was showing.
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Offred yells at Ofglen for her actions, and Ofglen whispers to Offred that the man wasn’t a rapist, but a member of the Resistance, and she was trying to make him unconscious. Aunt Lydia whistles again, but the frenzy continues. Janine emerges, laughing and saying lines from her waitress job, bloodstained and holding a bit of the man’s hair. Offred is angry with Janine for losing her mind, since it means that Janine doesn’t have to deal sanely with the horrifying reality. When Offred returns home, she’s hungry and wants to have sex.
This encounter with Janine gets to the root of Offred’s hatred for her. Offred envies Janine’s ability to go crazy, because it means that Janine can float in her own bubble above the situation, instead of engaging with it. However, Offred often retreats into her own memories to cope as well. In Janine, she sees what she fears about herself.
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