The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 14 : Household | Summary

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Summary

Offred walks downstairs to the sitting room, where she kneels in her assigned location for the Ceremony and fantasizes about stealing something. The other members of the household arrive one by one: Cora, Rita, Nick, and then Serena Joy. Offred thinks that Nick's foot might touch hers, but she is not sure. They all wait for the Commander. Serena Joy clicks through television channels before settling on the news, which shows only victories Gilead is winning in the war against Baptists and Quakers.

Serena Joy turns off the TV and lights a cigarette, and Offred remembers getting into a car on some past September Saturday. In the back of the car, her daughter is ready for a family picnic—a ruse to cover the escape attempt into Canada. All goes as planned through the first checkpoint. Luke is confident and happy. She is worried.

Analysis

As the household prepares for the Ceremony, Offred notes that they are all gathered in the sitting room because of her body. She says, "Even the Commander is subject to its whims." Gilead, for all of its mechanisms of control, cannot or does not control a woman's fertility cycle. In this way, the body for which Offred is valued asserts a small amount of power within the proceedings.

For the first time, the narrator reveals a name, but it is not her true name. She is known as Offred, but her true name is something else, something now forbidden. She thinks of her true name as a buried treasure from the past that she might one day dig up. Her identity is intact and valuable, but it is buried.

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