When she reached her home, Offred called Moira and learned that women could no longer legally work or hold property. Their bank accounts were transferred to their husbands or the nearest male family member. Luke tried to console her, but Offred wondered if he was already patronizing her. She realizes that the army men she saw were not members of the United States army. They were wearing different uniforms. In the weeks and months that followed, there were protests and marches, but the army cracked down hard on dissent and the protesting stopped. Offred and Luke never joined any of the protests, because they were afraid for their lives and for the life of their daughter. Remembering the marches makes Offred remember earlier protests in which her mother was involved. She remembers being an adolescent and being ashamed of her mother’s activism.
Looking out her window, Offred sees Nick come into the yard and notices that his hat is askew. She wonders, idly, what he gets out of facilitating her forbidden liaisons with the Commander, and she remembers their fleeting kiss in the darkened living room. Then she remembers how the night after she lost her job, Luke wanted to make love, but Offred felt uncomfortable, because the balance of power had shifted subtly. They no longer belonged to each other; instead, she belonged to him. She thought perhaps he liked the fact that she belonged to him. Now she wants to know whether she was right.
Ofglen provides Offred with hope. She is a friend with whom she can talk and a connection to the resistance movement. Atwood juxtaposes Offred’s sudden sense of hope with an immediate reminder of the power of the Gileadean state: the two Handmaids witness the Eyes seize a man and drag him off. Against this display of the state’s reach, the idea of a resistance seems laughable.
Offred’s extended flashback provides an explanation of how Gilead was created. The pre-Gilead United States is our world in the near future—all money has been computerized, and pornography and prostitution have become more accepted and available. Offred mentions “Pornomarts” and “Feels-on-Wheels” as if the terms needed no explanation, leaving the details to the imagination but conveying a sense of a society more sexually liberated than our own. The extent of this sexual liberation may prompt the extremism of the conservative backlash. Offred mentions “porn riots” and “abortion riots” that take place before Gilead—the conservative precursor to the uprising against the liberal government. In the epilogue, an expert on Gilead’s history says its founders used a “CIA pamphlet on the destabilization of foreign governments as a strategic handbook” to topple the U.S. government. First, governmental officials are assassinated; then martial law is declared “temporarily”; finally, the new regime consolidates its power and squashes dissent.
In Offred’s telling, there is little resistance to the new regime, even after it disenfranchises women and strips them of their jobs. This may be intended as a condemnation of the complacency of ordinary people in times of crisis, or of the complacency Atwood saw at the time she wrote the novel. Pre-Gilead society seems more fraught with gender tensions, and these may play a role in the strange reaction of the women. When Offred loses her job and her money, Luke does not express outrage; he tells her not to worry and promises to take care of her. Later, during marches, he tells her that it would be “futile” to march and that she needs to think about him and their daughter. Everything we know of Luke suggests that he is a decent man, but he is willing to go along with this oppression of women. Gilead re-establishes the old patterns of patriarchy, and Luke slips back into those patterns, promising to “take care” of Offred instead of fighting for her rights. Women also bear blame: they do not respond to the outrages against feminism with rage or action, but with lassitude. Offred doesn’t know or remember the details of the coup. This ignorance, in her and in other women, may have been the failure. Women took for granted the gains of feminism and the government’s protection of the rights of women, and so lost them all.