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The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood

Key Questions and Answers

Summary Key Questions and Answers
What is significant about the words that Offred plays in Scrabble with the Commander?

Several of the words Offred forms while playing Scrabble with the Commander provide subtle commentary on her life. In her first game, Offred spells out larynx, valance, and zygote, among others. The larynx is the voice box, and like all women in Gilead, Offred is not allowed to speak out or have a say in society. A valance is a piece of fabric that shades the top of a curtain; Offred must keep her true feelings guarded from others, and conversely, the outside world is shaded from her. She represents her sole purpose with the word zygote, which is a fertilized egg. In another game, Offred plays the word prolix, which means “lengthy and long-winded in writing”—this word is ironic since Offred is forbidden to read or write yet is secretly telling her story. She also forms quandary, which highlights the perpetual state of uncertainty of her life.