The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 42 : Salvaging | Summary



For the first time in two years, Offred goes to a Women's Salvaging on a lawn near the library. As always at these public events, the women are separated by their roles: Wives, Handmaids, Marthas, and Econowives. A lengthy rope winds its way among the audience. The Handmaids kneel at the front before a stage set up with three hanging poles. The three women to be Salvaged—two Handmaids and a Wife—are seated on the stage. Aunt Lydia presides over the event and refuses to name the women's crimes. The women have bags placed over their heads. Audience members are expected to pull on the rope so that all take part in the execution. Offred refuses to participate this time, but the women are hanged nonetheless.


Offred deals with the terrible events at the Salvaging through distraction; first she focuses on making love with Nick, then she looks at the grass and describes the rope. This strategy of distraction is reminiscent of the way Offred gets through the Ceremony in Chapter 16: "One detaches oneself. One describes."

The government's manipulation of language is again evident in the term salvaging, which means "saving something from being destroyed." It is ironic that the government takes the lives of the three women it salvages, presumably to save the other women from rebellion or disobedience.

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