The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 24 : Night | Summary

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Summary

Offred returns to her room. She does not undress, as the red costume helps her focus on her thoughts. She refers to herself as Offred and gives readers some rare defining physical details: her hair color and height. She also knows this new development with the Commander is a turning point, whether an escape or a trap, and she must figure out a way to make use of it as she tries to sort out her present identity.

She remembers watching a documentary about World War II with her mother. The documentary features an interview with the mistress of a man in charge of a Nazi concentration camp. In the interview, the woman says that her lover is not a monster. Then the woman commits suicide a few days after the interview.

Offred begins to laugh and crawls into the cupboard with her hands over her mouth to stifle it. She sees the words Nolite te bastardes carborundorum and traces them with her finger.

Analysis

Offred reacts to her visit with the Commander in a variety of ways. First, she feels trapped and struggles to regain a sense of her own identity. After a litany of factual information about herself—"I am thirty-three years old"—she feels a little calmer and is able to examine her situation analytically, considering how to gain an advantage from this newly developing situation as she replaces chaos and brainwashing with truth.

The memory of the Nazi's mistress causes Offred to speculate about the woman's choices. Is she really so naïve, or does she convince herself to ignore the truth and become the Nazi's mistress for some private reason? In either case, the truth of the matter destroys the woman's beauty and health, and ultimately, she choose to end her life. The woman in the documentary dies at her own hands, just as she makes the decision to become mistress to a monster. She is responsible and holds herself accountable, which women such as Offred cannot do within their social structure.

After this reflection, Offred's method of retreating from emotionally difficult situations by analyzing or escaping them fails her, and she begins to laugh uncontrollably. She has been very controlled regarding her outward behavior thus far in the novel. This laughter comes as a surprise, revealing a progression toward a reclamation of emotion.

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