“ It pleased me that she was willing to lie for me”
“ It was a link between us”
Sisterhood, and defiance. Makes her feel powerful, that they can both break the rules of Gilead. Offred is no longer alone in the world as she thought she was. This act of loyalty between Cora and Offred represents how the idea that Marthas should reject and despise the Handmaids is not as clearcut as it was in the beginning of the novel.
“ Serena Joy, kneeling on a cushion in the garden”
Shows that equality of women does exist in Gilead. Only illusion of hierarchy. Serena kneels just like Offred has to. Kneeling suggests submission which might link to the idea that the Wives aren’t the foundations of the household as they don’t have much responsibility – Serena only has power over the Handmaids and Marthas, even if she wanted to get rid of Offred, she’d have to get approval from the Commander.
“ Even the bricks of the house are softening, becoming tactile”
Not a real family. Abnormal and unnatural. House seems to be breaking down, just like the relationships within it: Commander and Wife do not act like a normal married couple. More of a household than a family – no real community spirit.
“ irises, rising beautiful and cool...so female in shape”
Contrast between Serena and her garden. Makes her task seem pointless. She is trying to be something she is not – young and vibrant. “bitter jokes” suggests Offred finds it amusing that Serena is caring for the new, young flowers despite her lack of youth and beauty. “female in shape” is ironic as Gilead preaches that the Handmaids and women in the society should lose all femininity and beauty, becoming a ‘national resource’. Offred seems to aware of the shape and beauty of the flowers, almost like she acknowledges that Serena has lost her youth, whereas, Offred has the advantage of age, fertility and supposed beauty on her side.
No longer referred to as Serena Joy. Distancing herself from Serena. More confident.
Now his wife is the one who ‘goes to their bedroom’. Offred’s own room at night was her safe haven but now she is taking more comfort in her meetings with the Commander and what he offers her – company, hand lotion and a taste of freedom. Again shows Serena’s lack of control – she may well be aware that her relationship with the Commander is in name only.
“ They get sick a lot…it adds interest to their lives”
Their role is pointless. They have nothing to be scarred of, like Cora who was “careful not to cough” when she had a cold.
When Offred was “summoned” by the Commander, she expected “some minor sexual manipulation” that he was “denied”.
Many sexual restrictions in Gilead gave her the wrong expectations of men.
“ Asked to play scrabble instead” She found this surprising and saw this as a “violation”.
Section 5: “The second evening began in the same way…
“ second evening” immediately suggests that this is not a one-off as perhaps Offred first thought, and we soon learn it becomes almost like a ritual.
“ the same two games” sounds quite juvenile but we learn that this is more than the Commander just getting ‘more than his fair share’ from having a Handmaid: it is a mutually beneficial relationship as he is allowing her to create, read, spell and commit to memory words on the scrabble board; this is essentially an act of rebellion as Offred is being taught knowledge. Also, the Commander is willing to break the rules in order to satisfy his own needs: “We can always looks it up in the dictionary,”.
“ I have a little present for you, he said.” suggests the Commander is almost courting Offred and perhaps is excited by the prospect of a younger woman in the house or having a companion who has no choice but to obey him. By confusing Offred (“I was expecting everything to be the same…but he sat back in his chair.”) and expecting more from her, the Commander has ensured that the power lies in his hands. In this way, the meetings take a sinister turn as it appears that he is using Offred to get a power trip: “dangled it before me like fish bait…He might be testing me,”
“ by Aunt Lydia’s lights, I was evil. But I didn’t feel evil.” shows how Offred doesn’t even pay attention to the attempted indoctrination by Gilead and is resilient in the knowledge she has the power of thought and mind that means she can never be broken.
An indication of how fragile Gilead’s foundations are is the fact that even the most powerful and influential members of this society “retain an appreciation for the old things.”, after all, his motives are “beyond reproach” – as long as the power is in his, and others like him, hands, the Commander is willing to bend the rules to his benefit as he knows that he is supposedly untouchable in this patriarchal society.
However, Offred is not so easily subdued and levels the power balance a little by challenging the Commander: “How about your Wife?” highlighting she is completely open with him and doesn’t hide her true feelings/opinions.
“ On the third night I asked him for some hand lotion.” The speed with which the relationship has changed from being distant and unnerving to informal and almost relaxed is an indication of how desperate Offred and the Commander are to create their own freedom and be relieved from the constraints of the regime. The symbolism behind the hand lotion is that is represents her femininity and how the Commanders don’t want a ‘national resource’ but a ‘real’ woman – someone who cares about her appearance and how others, namely men, see her.
“ A Vogue.” The Western conception of being female and a woman is based on youth, beauty and caring about your appearance and the way you present yourself. Vogue is also revolutionary in that it contains images of women experimenting with their images and pushing the boundaries of fashion and being completely liberal which is a far cry from the strictly conservative Gilead.
“ I said our instead of my.” Despite the lack of sisterly loyalty between the Handmaids, Offred still acknowledges that, ultimately, the women will be experiencing the same difficulties, fears and hopes. It also reflects the indoctrination of the women at the Red Centre where you become part of the collective – a group of women with the same values and belief in reproduction by any means.
“ Butter. He laughed. I could have slapped him.” shows how Offred takes immediate offence to any mocking comment the Commander makes about the huge adapting process the Handmaids must’ve gone through to accept and survive in this harsh place.
The fact that the Commander brings up ‘the act’ infront of Offred and only she reacts, “I could feel myself blushing.”, shows how he finds the ritual matter-of-fact and has no problem accepting the lot he and Offred are in. This idea of him having no objection to the Gilead regime is reinforced in: “he gave evidence of being truly ignorant of the conditions we lived.” highlighting his lack of empathy and ignorance at not fully understanding how deep the regime deliberately goes to ensure the Handmaids have no privacy, individuality and independence.
“ I think I lost control then,” is the first time Offred loses her composure during these meetings and shows how much stress and pressure she is under to conform and sacrifice herself to Gilead’s demands whilst still fighting against its constraints and hold onto her past.
There is sexual imagery in the penultimate paragraph: “He watched me smoothing it over my hands” and the idea that she is not only a sexual object but also just someone the Commander can fulfil his needs with is reinforced, “ For him, I must remember, I am only a whim.”
6 sections separated by a blank space – perhaps indicates different thoughts or interruptions in the meeting with the Commander: from Cora and her on the floor to Serena Joy kneeling in the garden to knocking on the Commander’s door in the middle of the night.
Time shifts between past and present are noticeable, however, aren’t as prominent as in other chapters: “That was in May...Then we had the irises...”.
The meetings between the Commander and Offred have a ‘masculine voice’ in that the discourse is impersonal and based on answering questions, there is no flow to the conversation perhaps highlighting that Offred is not at ease or being herself despite knowing she can trust him to the extent that this is a benefit for both of them: “Why?...They look...What for?”
“ The fruiting body” – suggests youth and vibrance in contrast to Serena who is portrayed as stale and in a negative light. Quite positive words in contrast to the bleakness of the environment and situation in the novel.