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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 2 : Shopping | Summary



The novel shifts into the present and the commencement of a shopping trip that will last for several chapters.

Offred has been stationed as a Handmaid in the Commander's home for five weeks. Offred describes her white bedroom, which contains a window and minimal furniture—a bed, a chair, and a picture of flowers. All items that might be used as weapons or to assist in suicide have been eliminated. Offred acknowledges the appeal of suicide but asserts her will to live. She dresses in clothes that cover all parts of her body and that are almost entirely red; the white wings of a headdress obscure her face, limiting her ability to see and be seen. Carrying a shopping basket, she enters the kitchen, where Rita, a Martha dressed in green, is making bread. Without smiling or other friendly gestures, Rita gives Offred tokens with pictured foods to use for shopping. Offred describes eavesdropping on Rita and Cora—the maid and another Martha—and hearing them gossip. She briefly entertains a daydream in which she, Rita, and Cora chat about their lives over coffee. She takes the tokens, listens to Rita's instructions about which foods to buy, and leaves.


At first glance, Offred's new situation seems to be an improvement from the prison-like confinement of the gymnasium. The bedroom is quaint and sunny. The house is rich and luxurious, if old-fashioned in a slightly romanticized way. Servants attend to their duties, making the bread and oiling the wooden bannisters with lemon oil. Yet this deceptively charming setting is marred by ominous details and images. The bedroom chandelier, a means of suicide, has been removed, leaving a plastered-over spot on the ceiling "like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out." While the house is large enough for a family, no children are present, and Offred thinks anxiously about the location of the Commander's Wife within the house. In this setting, as well as the first, the women are isolated from one another and do not communicate openly.

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