The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Offred Quotes

Quotes Offred Quotes
Nothing takes place in the bed but sleep; or no sleep. I try not to think too much. Like other things now, thought must be rationed. There’s a lot that doesn’t bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last.

As Offred describes her room in the Commander’s house, the reader gets insight into how she uses, or doesn’t use, her thoughts in an attempt to survive. From early on she decides that no matter how unbearable her life as a Handmaid becomes, she wants to survive as long as she can, even if it means giving up parts of herself.

I have them, these attacks of the past like faintness, a wave sweeping over my head. Sometimes it can hardly be borne. What is to be done, what is to be done, I thought. There is nothing to be done.

Offred wonders what to do about vivid memories that overwhelm her, such as lying in bed with her husband Luke. Offred prioritizes surviving in Gilead, and she holds little hope that she will see her family again. Her will to survive seems to be more driven by self-preservation than hope for the future.

I ought to feel hatred for this man. I know I ought to feel it, but it isn’t what I do feel. What I feel is more complicated than that. I don’t know what to call it. It isn’t love.

As Offred looks out the window to see the Commander getting into his car, she sees him in an objective light that allows her to question her feelings about him. Her thoughts show Offred’s complicated relationship with the Commander, even before they begin seeing each other in secret. Even though he helped create Gilead, she feels a certain sympathy for him as at times he seems as trapped in Gilead as she is.

He nods, then turns and leaves the room, closing the door with exaggerated care behind him, as if both of us are his ailing mother. There’s something hilarious about this, but I don’t dare laugh.

Offred observes the Commander’s behavior as he leaves the room after the Ceremony. In Offred’s thoughts, we can see her wry and dark sense of humor, which often helps her get through the day in Gilead. Her observation also gives insight into what Offred must have been like with her husband and Moira before the rise of Gilead, when she did not need to stifle her laughter.

I admired my mother in some ways, although things between us were never easy. She expected too much from me, I felt. She expected me to vindicate her life for her, and the choices she’d made. I didn’t want to live my life on her terms.

Offred analyzes the relationship she had with her mother whom she has described as a feminist activist. Although Offred admired her mother, she resisted going down the same path and sometimes even felt embarrassed by her. She never felt comfortable protesting or standing up for women’s rights, even when she felt her old life crumbling around her. Her indifference to rising up against Gilead’s repression finds it roots in the complacency she felt before the new regime started.

But even so, and stupidly enough, I’m happier than I was before. It’s something to do, for one thing. Something to fill the time, at night, instead of sitting alone in my room. It’s something else to think about. I don’t love the Commander or anything like it, but he’s of interest to me, he occupies space, he is more than a shadow.

Offred reflects on the change in her life after she and the Commander begin spending the evenings together in his study. A few nights a week, they have conversations, play games, and read old magazines. The fact that these small allowances make her relatively happy shows how far little diversions go to make life bearable for people in dire situations.

Occasionally I try to put myself in his position. I do this as a tactic, to guess in advance how he may be moved to behave towards me. It’s difficult for me to believe I have power over him, of any sort, but I do; although it’s of an equivocal kind.

Offred discovers she can influence the Commander during their evenings together, and she wants to play him to her advantage. She tries to guess at what he wants from her, and what she can do to get something in return. The reader sees her cleverness as well as her joy in wielding any sort of power she can over authority figures.

This interpretation hasn’t occurred to me. I apply it to the Commander, but it seems too simple for him, too crude. Surely his motivations are more delicate than that. But it may only be vanity that prompts me to think so.

Offred has difficulty processing the explanation Moira offers for why the Commander brought Offred to Jezebel’s. Moira says that it’s a common occurrence for Commanders to dress up and show off their Handmaids. Offred’s reaction here shows that she’d like to believe the Commander feels some affection for her. Even though she admits several times she does not love the Commander, she still wants to be valued by him for who she is.

So I will go on. So I will myself to go on. I am coming to a part you will not like at all, because in it I did not behave well, but I will try nonetheless to leave nothing out. After all you’ve been through, you deserve whatever I have left, which is not much but includes the truth.

Offred warns the reader of the ugliness of her behavior in continuing her relationship with Nick. Seeing Nick gives Offred something to look forward to and live for. She prioritizes this need when she dismisses Ofglen’s request for Offred’s help with Mayday. Offred knows that her actions were selfish but is determined to let the truth be known, showing her self-awareness and guilt over not acting against Gilead.