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The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood
Quotes

The Eyes

Quotes The Eyes
“Under His Eye,” she says. The right farewell. “Under His Eye,” I reply, and she gives a little nod.

Offred and Ofglen exchange the appropriate goodbye when they part at the end of the shopping trip. The saying serves as a reminder to the people of Gilead that they are always being watched. This farewell is symbolic of their complete lack of freedom: No matter where they go, they are at risk of being caught should they break any rules or transgress in any way.

I cannot avoid seeing, now, the small tattoo on my ankle. Four digits and an eye, a passport in reverse. It’s supposed to guarantee that I will never be able to fade, finally, into another landscape. I am too important, too scarce, for that. I am a national resource.

The tattooing of the eye on the bodies of the handmaids emphasizes that they exist wholly under the ownership and watch of the rulers of Gilead. The handmaids’ identification tattoo is reminiscent of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany but also forces them to be aware, every time they see it, that they lack free will. Despite the fact that the handmaids are integral to Gilead’s survival, they are accorded no privileges of person.

Buttered, I lie on my single bed, flat, like a piece of toast. I can’t sleep. In the semidark I stare up at the blind plaster eye in the middle of the ceiling, which stares back down at me, even though it can’t see.

Offred first notes this figurative eye early on in the novel: “On the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in the center of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out.” Offred understands that a chandelier once dangled from this spot, but she can’t help but imagine the spot as an eye, heightening her own sense of being watched. Further, because of its position above the bed where she sleeps defenseless, this eye serves as a constant reminder of her vulnerability.

The Eyes of God run over all the earth.

This statement, made by Offred when recalling their failed escape attempt, refers to the Eyes by their official name: Eyes of God. The full name imparts even greater authority on the organization, for Gilead has modeled itself as a theocracy in which biblical teachings, though butchered, are paramount to deciding what qualifies as appropriate behavior. An agent of the Eyes—a mortal spy—becomes the omnipotent, ever-present, all-seeing Eye of God.

I expect a stranger, but it’s Nick who pushes open the door, flicks on the light. I can’t place that, unless he’s one of them. There was always that possibility. Nick, the private Eye. Dirty work is done by dirty people. You shit, I think. I open my mouth to say it, but he comes over, close to me, whispers. “It’s all right. It’s Mayday. Go with them.”

At the end of the book, in the space of a few seconds of time, Nick’s identity goes through several transformations, from Eye to member of the rebel group. Offred’s confusion underscores the fact that in Gilead, a person never truly knows whom to trust. That Nick fits the role of an Eye symbolizes the ambiguity under which everyone must go about their daily lives; this uncertainty leads the Eyes to have power even in their absence by paralyzing people with fear and doubt.