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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 29 : Soul Scrolls | Summary



Offred meets with the Commander, and she asks him about the meaning of the Latin phrase in her room. He reveals that it is actually a fake Latin phrase he and his friends made up when they were in school. It is supposed to mean, "Don't let the bastards grind you down." He shows her the phrase written in one of his old textbooks. She realizes that the previous occupant of her room must have had a similar arrangement with the Commander. He tells her that the last Handmaid hanged herself after Serena Joy became aware of her secret relationship with the Commander. She understands the Commander's motivation: he wants Offred's life to be bearable because he feels bad about the suicide. Offred realizes that this situation gives her some power over the Commander.


Offred's relationship with the Commander has become far less formal. She takes her shoes off, she defends her Scrabble play, and she isn't afraid to surprise him. He seems to let his guard down as well, showing a willingness to give information she has been denied, such as the fate of the previous Handmaid. However, the attitude he displays while relating this information is thoughtful rather than sad, which reiterates the interchangeability of the Handmaids because they lack real identity. Offred realizes she is just the next in line and that his indulgence toward her is just a way to serve his own needs.

The theme that relationships have been reduced to emotionless transactions is illustrated when Offred feels like she is a "bank customer negotiating a hefty loan" and notes that his pampering must be leading to some gain for him.

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