The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 8 : Waiting Room | Summary

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Summary

Offred is again at the Wall with Ofglen, where three new bodies hang. Offred suggests that they leave, and Ofglen says, "It's a beautiful May day." Then a funeral procession of three Econowives passes. The bereaved woman carries a jar, and from its small size Offred knows that the woman has miscarried. One of the Econowives spits on the sidewalk near the Handmaids, and another frowns at them.

Back at the Commander's yard, Nick asks Offred a question, and she replies with only a nod. Inside the house, Offred's thoughts turn to Serena Joy, and she recalls reading that Serena Joy is a fake name. She had been a singer on a religious television show and had gone on to even more celebrity by giving speeches about how a woman's place is in the home. There were a couple of attempts on her life, possibly by radical feminists who objected to Serena Joy's message. However, there were also rumors that she staged the attempts to garner public sympathy. Offred remembers that Luke found Serena Joy comical, but Offred always found her frightening. Now Serena Joy's beauty is fading, and she mostly ignores Offred as she comes and goes from the house. Yet Offred knows that, in many ways, Serena Joy is more dangerous to Offred's safety than the Commander is.

As Offred enters the kitchen, the smell of bread reminds her of her daughter. She quickly shuts down this memory. As she returns to her room to prepare for bath day with Cora, she is surprised to find the Commander standing outside it. There is a moment of tension before he walks away. Offred is surprised that she thinks of the room as hers for the first time.

Analysis

Ofglen's mention of "May day" is an attempt to find out whether Offred is a member of the resistance movement known as Mayday. At this point in the story, the reference is lost on Offred, though she correctly remembers a conversation with Luke about the meaning of the term: "help me."

The division among women is highlighted in the exchange between the Econowives and the Handmaids. Although the Handmaids have greater status in society, the Econowives look down on them, spitting and frowning. The government believes it can avoid a rebellion if it can keep each caste of women hostile toward the others. Where there is hostility, there can be no unification.

The theme of language as a means of power or constraint continues to develop in Offred's description of Serena Joy, who in the past gave speeches about the sanctity of the home and how a woman's place is in the home. The double irony of this situation is not lost on the narrator. Serena Joy, in being out giving speeches, was not in the home. Now that she is "speechless," she is unhappy and homebound. The narrator observes, "How furious she must be, now that she's been taken at her word."

Finally, the tension between the rules and the following of the rules continues to challenge Offred's security, or "freedom from." Nick speaks openly to her, and the Commander stands outside her bedroom door, in clear violation of the rules for conducting his relationship with the Handmaid.

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