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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 31 : Jezebel's | Summary



This chapter is the first of nine that fall under the section heading "Jezebel's," named for a brothel.

As Offred eats breakfast and gets ready for her shopping walk, she longs to have an argument with Luke over something unimportant, such as housework. During their walk, Ofglen and Offred visit the Wall, where one body is marked with a "J," for Jew, Offred suspects. All Jews have been forced to leave the country, but Offred is not convinced that they left alive. Ofglen shares the password for the secret resistance group: Mayday.

When Offred returns from her walk, she gets a signal from the Commander via Nick. As Offred passes by Serena Joy, she asks Offred whether she is pregnant yet. She is not. Serena Joy suggests that perhaps the Commander cannot father a child and offers to help Offred secretly have sex with Nick in hopes of conceiving a child. Offred agrees because she realizes the danger no matter her answer. As a kind of reward, Serena Joy offers to let her see a photograph of her daughter, gives her a cigarette, and tells her to get a match from Rita.


Secrets, deceit, exchanges, and bargains are becoming a regular part of Offred's life. She is already carrying on a secret affair with the Commander behind Serena's back. Now she has agreed to be involved in a conspiracy with Serena behind the Commander's back. She and Nick are involved in both conspiracies; as a team, they are the common denominator. For their involvement, they get small rewards: cigarettes, sex, and the freedom to break the rules, just a little.

Offred is also rewarded with the promise of seeing a photograph of her daughter. As always, Offred's feelings toward Serena Joy are conflicted. She feels sorry for Serena Joy, but she is also wary of her. She is enraged knowing that Serena Joy has known where her daughter is the entire time, but she must hide this rage if she hopes to see the photograph.

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