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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 23 : Birth Day | Summary



Offred muses once again on the nature of narrative: "This is a reconstruction," she begins. She recognizes that all stories, including hers, are shaped by the details the narrator chooses to include or leave out. She tells us that the Commander asks her to kiss him and notes that there is, of course, more to that story.

When Cora brings Offred dinner after a nap, they have a short conversation about Ofwarren's baby girl. Then Offred resumes the story of going to her secret meeting with the Commander. After the Birth, she makes an illegal visit to the Commander's office at his request. The visit is dangerous for Offred. If she gets caught, she will be in trouble; if she refuses to obey the Commander, she will be in trouble. The room is full of books, and he invites her to sit and play Scrabble. She relishes the opportunity to spell words. Before she leaves, he asks her to kiss him, and she complies. He says, "Not like that ... As if you meant it." She fantasizes about fashioning a weapon and then killing the Commander at the next meeting, but then she admits that this fantasy is part of the reconstruction only; she did not have this thought at the time of the incident.


The fact that secret meetings between the Commander and Offred are forbidden by Gilead's strict rules make the meetings desirable for both parties. It is ironic that the Commander helps fashion these rules and now condones breaking them. Kissing, which is not allowed during the Ceremony, and a game based on printed words, which are forbidden to women, add to the danger and so to the sexual tension of the scene.

Offred again reminds readers that this narrative is a story—a "reconstruction." Given her insistence on clearly separating fact from fiction, these constant reminders suggest that Offred struggles with the truth. However, as long as she tells the reader that something is imagined, she is still being truthful in some way. In another sense, these reconstructions, true or not, become a way for Offred to try to access the truth of her story and her situation.

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