Driving back from the birth, Offred remembers Moira’s escape from the Red Center. Moira caused a toilet to overflow, and while Aunt Elizabeth tried to fix it, Moira jabbed a metal object into Aunt Elizabeth’s ribs and forced her into the furnace room. The object was a long lever from the toilet, but Aunt Elizabeth thought it was a knife. After exchanging clothing with Aunt Elizabeth and tying her up, Moira boldly walked out of the center using Aunt Elizabeth’s pass. No one has seen Moira or heard from her since then.
At home, Offred tells Cora about the child, and the Martha expresses her hope that “they” (meaning Offred) will have a child soon. That night, Offred sneaks out of her room and meets the Commander in his office. She braces herself for a forced physical advance. If Serena were to discover that Offred was with the Commander in his study, she could be sent to the Colonies as an Unwoman. But if she were to refuse the Commander, there could be even more dire consequences, because he has the real power in the household. Offred eyes the walls of the study, which are filled with books. The Commander greets her in the old way, by saying “Hello,” and Offred doesn’t know how to reply. To her surprise, the Commander merely asks her to play a game of Scrabble. This is forbidden, since any kind of reading is forbidden to women. They play two games, and the game feels luxurious to Offred. As she is about to leave, the Commander asks her for a kiss. She imagines coming to his study again with a piece of metal from the toilet, as Moira did, putting her arms around him and killing him. She kisses him, and he says sadly he wanted her to kiss him “‘as if [she] meant it.’”
How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation.
After leaving the Commander and returning to her room, Offred decides she has to forget her old name and her past; she needs to live in the present and work within its rules. The Commander’s unorthodox behavior allows her a chance to get something from him. She remembers that underneath all of Aunt Lydia’s speeches, the real message seemed to be that men are “sex machines” and should be manipulated with sex.
Offred recalls a documentary about the Holocaust in which the former mistress of one of the Nazi guards was interviewed. Offred’s mother liked to watch such historical programs, and always explained them carefully to Offred, even when she was too young to understand. The guard’s mistress denied knowing about the death camps and maintained that the guard, her lover, was not a monster. Offred remembers that the woman committed suicide just days after the interview.
Suddenly, sitting on her bed and undressing, Offred finds the events of the night incredibly funny. Laughter threatens to erupt, and she struggles to keep it down. In the dark, she stumbles into the closet (she also calls it a cupboard), where the Latin phrase nolite te bastardes carborundorum is written. She falls asleep on the floor with her head resting in the closet.
In the morning, Cora finds Offred sleeping on the floor, and she screams and drops the breakfast tray, shattering the dishes. Offred tells Cora she fainted. Cora covers for her and tells Rita that she dropped the tray by accident.
Offred's thoughts about cigarettes in her new life and the memory of smoking them in her old provides another symbol for control of women's bodies and choices in the Gilead regime. She is a former smoker, but her cigarettes are taken away from her along with many other freedoms when she becomes a handmaid. Offred can no longer smoke because this might harm any children she has yet to bear, though she still yearns for another cigarette whenever she sees one. Offred yearns for the freedoms her old life had to offer. Gilead's removal of cigaret... Read more→
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