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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 16 : Household | Summary



During the Ceremony, Offred, lying between Serena Joy's legs and holding hands with her, must allow the Commander to have sex with her. The Ceremony is performed with as much clothing in place as possible and with no passion or intimacy. Offred states that while she is not in control, the act should not be considered rape because she has chosen the role of Handmaid over other alternatives. When the Commander finishes, he leaves. Serena Joy tells Offred to leave. Offred wonders which participant is most deplorable.


Offred feels that she is partly responsible for what happens to her in the Ceremony because she has chosen her situation over other options. However, what are her other options? If the only other options are variations of pain, torture, and oppression ending in death, does she freely choose her fate?

Serena Joy may finally conjure the sympathies of readers as the most unnecessary participant in the scene. She is in a humiliating position, and her shame and failure to conceive a child are important features of the Ceremony.

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