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The Handmaid's Tale | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid's Tale | Chapter 9 : Waiting Room | Summary



As Offred waits in the room she has now accepted as hers, by necessity if not by choice, she is reminded of the hotel rooms where she and Luke would meet secretly before his divorce. She recalls exploring her room when she was new to the Commander's house. On one day, she discovered stains on the mattress left by a couple's lovemaking, which brought on such a powerful rush of longing for Luke that she felt faint.

She decides that she will divide the room into sections and explore one thoroughly each day. Although the room is supposed to be suicide-proof, she finds hooks in a cupboard. She also finds a phrase, scratched in the floor, written in an unfamiliar language: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. She finds pleasure in thinking about the woman who might have previously occupied the room and who was brave enough to leave a message—someone like the Moira she knew in college.

When Offred asks Rita about the woman, Rita says, "What you don't know won't hurt you."


While Offred reviews her claim that she is trying not to tell this story, she acknowledges that the story needs a setting: her room, "some space, finally, that I claim as mine." Through the stain on the mattress, the room becomes a setting for Offred and Luke's story as she remembers their time together. Yet she blames herself, in part, for the loss of this story. She uses the word careless to describe her previous attitude toward her many freedoms, like ordering room service or sending a postcard.

Yet when Offred finds tangible evidence of a woman who came before her, she realizes that the room and the text scrawled on the floor, which translates to "Don't let the bastards grind you down," are a part of another woman's story, too—a story that intertwines with Offred's story. Offred's desire to know part of this woman's story by questioning Rita illustrates again the power of language, the power of story, to give identity. In capturing part of this woman's story, Offred can perhaps restore part of her lost identity so that this woman, like the one who came before Ofglen, does not simply disappear. The woman's use of Latin, a dead language, is symbolic. A dead woman uses a dead language to communicate with Offred across time and space. If communication takes place, then the dead language and perhaps the woman who uses it are revived to some extent.

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