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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 10 : Waiting Room | Summary



Offred recalls song lyrics. She notes that there is very little music in the house or anywhere else for that matter. Thoughts of the upcoming summer and the shedding of the winter costume for a summer version trigger a memory of Aunt Lydia railing against the indecencies of the past.

Offred moves quickly from this memory to one of her own indecencies: Moira borrowing a cigarette and inviting her to an "underwhore" party to trade inexpensive lingerie. This memory now seems unbelievable to Offred. She understands that, both then and now, people behave as if abnormal behaviors are normal as long as they remain relatively unaffected.

She hears the sound of the car starting and looks out the window. The Commander follows Nick toward the car. She imagines spitting out the window at him or throwing something. This image prompts her to remember being with Moira at the college dorm, throwing water balloons out the window at the boys below. As she watches the car depart, Offred tries to define her feelings for the Commander.


Offred compares and contrasts her life before Gilead to the present. In the past, there were stories in newspapers—of rapes, murders, and violence, terrible things happening to other people. She was able to ignore crimes that did not affect her directly. She describes this life as living "in the gaps between the stories," a careless life of fun and irresponsibility in college with Moira. Now, in the present, she has emerged from these gaps, and her life is the story, one she wishes desperately to escape but cannot.

Offred's conflicting feelings for the Commander, not hatred but not love either, speak to the idea of victimization. By acknowledging her own guilt in her past ignorance toward the suffering of others, she recognizes that the present situation is, at least in part, her own doing. Each character, male and female, has had some part to play in the construction of Gilead.

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