Chapters 1–3

Offred describes the lives of herself and other women who once lived in a place called the Red Center, then shifts to a description of her current room in the Commander and his wife’s home. Offred describes her role as a Handmaid in this society. Offred remembers when she first met the Commander’s Wife, Serena Joy, and how she was told to stay out of sight as much as possible.

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Chapters 4–6

As Offred leaves to go shopping, Nick, a Guardian whom Offred suspects to be an Eye, winks at her. Offred joins her traveling companion Ofglen. While waiting in line at the store, the name of this society is revealed: The Republic of Gilead. Offred recognizes a pregnant woman named Janine who was with Offred at the Red Center. Offred and Ofglen take the long way home past the church, where across the street sits the Wall where the authorities hang the bodies of executed criminals.

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Chapters 7–9

Offred remembers her former life, in particular her friend Moira. Offred also recalls the authorities telling her that she was an unfit mother and taking her daughter away. Offred and Ofglen return from another shopping trip where they notice new bodies on the Wall. Offred ignores Nick who attempts to speak to her, an act that is forbidden. Offred wonders if Serena is angry that she can no longer be a public figure, now that what she advocated for has come to pass: women, including her, are confined to the home. Offred notices the Commander standing outside her room even though he is not supposed to be there. She thinks about her husband Luke. Offred remembers the Latin phrase sketched into the floor of the closet by the previous Handmaid.

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Chapters 10–12

Every month, a Guardian accompanies Offred to a doctor, who tests her for pregnancy and disease. In one instance, a doctor offers to help by having sex with Offred and impregnating her. Offred declines, saying it is too dangerous. During one of Offred’s bath days, she thinks of her daughter, and remembers Aunt Lydia saying women should not get attached to things.

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Chapters 13–15

Offred has a series of recollections about her past: she recalls encountering Moira in the Red Center; what happened to Janine when it was her turn to “testify” about her past; how her body’s only function is childbearing; and the memory of trying to escape with her daughter. Offred attends the Ceremony with the rest of the household. When the Commander arrives, he reads passages about childbearing.

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Chapters 16–21

After the Ceremony ends with the Commander having sex with Offred, Offred returns to her room, sneaks downstairs to steal a daffodil, and shares a kiss with Nick. She returns to her room and remembers making love to Luke and wonders if he is dead, in prison, or has escaped. The next day a Birthmobile arrives to collect Offred and take her to Janine’s birthing at Commander Warren’s house. The Handmaids gather in one room while the Wives gather in another, and after Janine gives birth, the baby Angela is given to Commander Warren’s wife.

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Chapters 22–25

Offred remembers Moira’s escape from the Red Center and how no one has seen or heard from her since then. Offred meets the Commander in his office where, to her surprise, he asks her to play a game of Scrabble. Eventually, the Commander asks her for a kiss, but Offred returns to her room and decides that she must forget her old name and her past, and work within the rules of her present predicament. Offred continues to meet the Commander in his office at night, having developed a system of signals so that Serena will not catch on.

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Chapters 26–28

Offred not only becomes friendlier with the Commander, but also with Ofglen. Offred learns that Ofglen is part of a group of subversives. Offred recalls memories of Moira, who was a lesbian and disapproved of Offred’s affair with Luke. Offred then remembers the fall of the United States and the creation of Gilead, and how the power structure between men and women shifted in men’s favor.

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Chapters 29–32

After a game of Scrabble, the Commander gives vague answers to Offred’s questions, but he reveals that the Latin phrase in her room means “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” He eventually tells her that following Serena’s discovery of the former Handmaid’s liaisons with the Commander, the Handmaid killed herself. When Offred returns home after an excursion with Ofglen where Ofglen teaches her the code word “Mayday,” Offred meets with Serena who says Nick should try to impregnate Offred since the Commander is probably sterile.

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Chapters 33–36

The Handmaids attend a “Prayvaganza,” a mass ceremony where girls as young as fourteen get married, and after the services Ofglen urges Offred to find out everything she can for the subversives. Serena shows Offred a photograph of her daughter, which troubles Offred’s heart. When Offred goes to see the Commander that night, she is invited to go out with him, and when they arrive at their destination, Offred imagines Moira calling her an idiot for going along with his plan.

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Chapters 37–40

The Commander takes Offred to an old hotel that Offred remembers from pre-Gilead days, and while there, she recognizes Moira, who gives her the old signal to meet her in the washroom. After hearing Moira’s story, Offred misses the old Moira who was so spirited and rebellious, and after Offred leaves the club, she never sees Moira again. The Commander takes Offred to a hotel room, but he is disappointed that Offred is not excited about a real sexual encounter. When Offred returns to the Commander’s house, Serena sets up her meeting with Nick, and Offred tells two different versions of their sexual encounter, explaining that neither version is completely accurate, and that every story by nature is a reconstruction.

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Chapters 41–44

Offred continues her affair with Nick without Serena’s knowledge, telling him about Moira and Ofglen, as well as her real name. Ofglen urges Offred to discover as much as she can about the Commander. After the “Salvaging,” in which three women are hanged, the Handmaids participate in a “Particicution,” wherein the Handmaids beat a man to a bloody pulp. After these events, Offred is surprised to find a new Ofglen meet her to go on her shopping trip, who tells Offred that Ofglen hung herself.

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Chapters 45 & 46 & Historical Notes on The Handmaid's Tale

Offred has a heated confrontation with Serena when the latter finds the outfit Offred wore to the club. In the middle of the night Nick opens the door of Offred’s room, saying that Mayday has come to save her. Offred follows Nick’s suggestion and follows the Eyes to the van waiting outside. The epilogue that follows is a transcript of a symposium held in 2195. It contains a speech by an expert on Gilead named Professor Pieixoto, who talks about how Offred’s story has been published as a manuscript titled The Handmaid’s Tale. The Professor discusses the identity of the narrator and how the final fate of Offred is unknown.

Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 45 & 46 & Historical Notes on The Handmaid's Tale