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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 13 : Nap | Summary



This chapter falls in its own section, called "Nap." It spans the time between the narrator's bath and the next event. It is a chapter focused on the theme of women in waiting. Offred is bored. She considers other examples of boredom: women in paintings, pigs being fattened for slaughter, and caged rats and pigeons. She decides to do a pelvic exercise she learned from Aunt Lydia, which is meant to prepare the body for childbirth. She recalls the drug-induced naps the Handmaids-in-waiting had to take each afternoon.

She remembers the time when Moira came to the gymnasium to become a Handmaid. Making sure not to give their friendship away to the Aunts, they arranged to meet in the men's bathroom. The next day, after a humiliating activity called "Testifying," where Janine was blamed for a confession of rape, Offred met Moira in the bathroom for a few freely spoken words. As this memory fades, Offred briefly recalls her first apartment with Luke but then begins a more terrible memory of trying to escape with her daughter and being caught. A bell sounds, and Offred awakens to find Cora at the door.


Traditionally, a lady-in-waiting is a woman of lower but noble rank who serves as the personal assistant of a queen or princess. Here, the term wait means "to serve or to be ready and available." The Handmaids wait in this sense as well. They are ready and available to serve the Commanders and their Wives in the goal of reproduction. Also, once impregnated, they become ladies-in-waiting. However, the term wait may also mean "to pass the time until another event occurs." Offred waits in this sense, too. She passes the time while she waits to wait on the Commander and his Wife. In this case, her time-passing activities include preparation for birth (pelvic exercises), remembering elements of her story (the Red Center, Luke, and her daughter), and napping.

Memories of the Red Center show that the women in this society are divided by government design. At the Testifying, Janine tells about being raped and getting an abortion, and the other women, led by an Aunt, publicly blame her for both, making fun of Janine for crying. The next week, during the Testifying, Janine is quick to say the events are all her fault. Not only do these scenes show that victim blaming is the norm, they show how quickly women turn on other women.

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