The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 27 : Soul Scrolls | Summary

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Summary

It is now full summer, and Offred walks with Ofglen to do the shopping. They are able to purchase fish, although it is not usually available and many types are becoming extinct. Offred recalls bringing her daughter to an ice cream shop that is gone now. The women walk past the Wall, where no bodies hang. Offred is disappointed because she is not able to check for Luke's corpse. Offred remembers when the buildings on the other side of the Wall, including a now forbidden grand library, were part of the university.

They pass a store called Soul Scrolls. Inside, machines print out and then read aloud the prayers of those who are able to pay for them. Watching the machines at work, the two secretly agree that God does not listen to these machine-read prayers. Ofglen hints that she is part of some kind of resistance group. Suddenly, the black van of the Eyes arrives; two men get out and grab an ordinary-looking man who is walking down the street. Offred is relieved that she is not the target.

Analysis

Offred puts herself at risk to learn whether Ofglen is friend or foe, but the risk turns out to be worth it when Ofglen tells her about a secret antigovernment group. Immediately after this exchange, both women are reminded of the punishment they will face if they are discovered, as the Eyes take someone away right in front of them. Though Offred is relieved that it is not her, it is clear that at any time she, or Ofglen, might meet a similar fate.

The forbidden library, which Offred says "is like a temple," is symbolic of the free exchange of knowledge and ideas. Now it serves as the center of Gilead's operations. The transformation of the library and the university setting is a metaphor for the transformation of an open society to a regulated one. The replacement of personal faith with meaningless machine-generated words reflects the way the government of Gilead uses the words of religion in ways that negate or ignore true meaning. Both images reiterate how language has been usurped in this culture.

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