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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 15 : Household | Summary



The chapters in the "Household" section reflect events in a home that revolve around the Commander.

The Commander arrives, sits, and prepares to read from a Bible that is otherwise locked away. He asks for a glass of water. While they wait, Offred thinks about the Commander as a man who is watched by women. After the water arrives, the Commander reads a variety of stories about having children to those who are not allowed to read for themselves. Offred recalls listening to recordings of these and other Bible verses in the gymnasium, but she suspects that some of the verses have been altered by the government. She remembers Moira telling her of a plan to fake an illness and escape the gymnasium.

The Commander finishes reading and offers a prayer. Serena Joy cries quietly, and Offred prays, "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum," the phrase scratched on the floor of her room, even though she does not know what it means. She remembers that when Moira tried to trick the Angels and escape, she was caught and violently punished. This portion of the Ceremony concludes.


The Commander is the center of power in this household; he is the one who enforces the government laws and the new order in the household. In this way, he remains set apart from the others, a mystery of sorts. Everything he does seems to Offred to be part of a show or illusion: "Is there no end to his disguises, of benevolence?" The rest of the household watches, hanging on his every move. Offred briefly considers that he, too, is trapped by the rules and roles of this society. However, it is clear that his plight is not as terrible as that of the women, as he holds power and position within the government and comes and goes from the house as he pleases.

It also becomes clear that the leadership of Gilead, while claiming to base its society's structure on the Bible, has altered biblical text. The text of the Beatitudes has been changed: "Blessed are the silent" does not appear in the Bible. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" becomes simply "Blessed are the meek." There is no inheritance for meekness, only blessings as doled out by the government. Because the women are not allowed to read, those in power can change the biblical text to support their own agendas without question.

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