Chapter 24-29 Handmaids Tale


Chapter 24 Summary

  • The narrator goes back to her room. She keeps her dress on because it helps her think. She wishes she had perspective and is worried she's losing hold of herself. She calls herself Offred.
  • She thinks about what she knows about herself—hair color, height—and how she only has one more round as a Handmaid.
  • She imagines that Aunt Lydia would have advised her to take advantage of the Commander by preying on his sexual needs, but she can't focus on how to do that. Yet he's giving her an opportunity, which could be an escape or a trap, and she needs to take advantage of it.
  • She can't believe he wanted to play Scrabble and make out.
  • The narrator remembers a documentary she saw on TV with her mother when she was just a child. The subject of the documentary was a formerly beautiful woman who had been the mistress of a prominent Nazi. The Nazi was supposed to be a terrible man, and the woman said she didn't know about the concentration camps.
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Chapter 24 Summary

  • In the documentary the woman was very ill with emphysema, but she still tried to present herself well by wearing a lot of makeup. The narrator fantasizes about how the woman might have talked herself into becoming the Nazi's mistress. A few days after she was interviewed for the documentary, the narrator tells us, the woman committed suicide.
  • The narrator is about to get undressed when she feels herself overcome with hysterical laughter. If people heard her, who knows what the consequences would be. She stumbles into her closet and laughs into the red cloak. When her laughter stops, she finds the writing the other woman carved into the wall, and breathes.
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Chapter 25 Summary

  • The narrator wakes up the next day when Cora drops a tray and it smashes. She dropped the tray because she was startled to see the narrator asleep in the closet and was worried she was dead.An egg, part of the narrator's breakfast, fell on the floor when Cora dropped the tray. The narrator says she wasn't hungry, so Cora won't have to explain how it fell or what happened. Cora is hopeful that the narrator's pregnant, but she's not. They have a short moment of unity.The narrator then says that was in May, and now a few months have passed. She observes Serena Joy's growing garden. She worries about summertime because it makes her want things more, compared to winter.Then the narrator describes how things are going between her and the Commander. They rendezvous in his office a couple of times a week. Each week it's different. She watches for signs from Nick to see if she should go or not.She has to be careful of Serena Joy. Sometimes she's out visiting friends, which makes things easier.On a side note, she says Commanders' Wives get sick a lot, while Handmaids and Marthas can't afford to. When Cora was really sick, she had to pretend to be well. Whenever Serena Joy visits a sick friend, the narrator has to go see the Commander.
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Chapter 25 Summary

  • Then the narrator talks about those visits. It's kind of a letdown that the Commander wants to play Scrabble instead of asking for ***** sex, but in another way it's just as weird for her.
  • He can't put his desires into words.
  • The second time she goes to see him, they play two games of Scrabble again. Then he gives her a present: an old copy of Vogue magazine. The magazine is dangerous contraband. The narrator reflects on how she used magazines casually in the past.
  • Although reading a magazine is forbidden, being in the Commander's room is even worse. The narrator reads the magazine, which she feels pleases the Commander. She asks him a few questions and realizes that he's interested in her because he and his wife have grown apart.
  • The next time they meet she asks him for hand lotion. It takes a while but he gets some for her. He doesn't realize that she can't take it out of the room because someone else would find it. The narrator gets angry at this but has to keep it under control because she's at the Commander's mercy.
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Chapter 26 Summary

  • A few days later they have another Ceremony. This time, though, the narrator's more uncomfortable. Before she could just check out and treat the Ceremony like another unpleasant experience. After hanging out with the Commander, though, she can't do that anymore. He seems to have changed, too.The narrator feels envious of, and shamefaced around, Serena Joy. She still has control over her, but now the narrator has something the Wife doesn't. She tells the Commander he can't act differently during the Ceremony or Serena Joy might figure things out.She flashes back to something Aunt Lydia used to say: women would be better off in a few years when they'd been Handmaids for a while. Conditions would improve. These were among the small promises made to placate the women at the Center.
  • The narrator thinks about the Commander again, deciding that she's basically his mistress. That kind of relationship hasn't changed, even though so much else has. She worries briefly that Serena Joy might know.
  • More importantly, she likes being treated as more than an object used for fertility; the Commander reminds her that she's not nothing.
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Chapter 27 Summary

  • The narrator and Ofglen stroll outside in the summertime. They are shopping, and buy fish at Loaves and Fishes. Fish is rare now, and there's some talk that they are becoming extinct.
  • The two women are hot and tired. The narrator remembers an ice cream store that used to be on this street and how she would take her daughter there.
  • The women walk over to the Wall, where there are no executed people visible today. In a way, not seeing anyone there is hard for the narrator, because at least if there's a body she can tell herself it's not Luke's. She believes Luke is imprisoned on the other side of the Wall. One of the buildings back there is the library, which is now forbidden.
  • The women turn around and walk by another store called Soul Scrolls, where you can buy prayers. They look in the window and can see each other's reflections. 
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Chapter 27 Summary

  • Ofglen asks whether the narrator thinks the machines that print the prayers can really reach God. This is a dangerous question. The narrator could play it safe, but she doesn't. She says no.
  • This is like an exchange of code, and the two realize they can talk to each other openly.
  • It's a relief to the narrator to talk to someone else who's working against the system. Ofglen says it's less dangerous to talk on their walks than anywhere else, and that she's not alone. The narrator briefly wonders if Ofglen's trying to trap her, but it feels good to have hope again.
  • They get back to the busy main street and see a scary event. Two Eyes (spies) grab a man off the street, beat him, and take him away in a black van. The narrator is just glad they didn't grab her.
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Chapter 28 Summary

  • The narrator is back home. She's supposed to take a nap but she's too wound up. She has a small fan in her room and thinks about how Moira would know how to take it apart to use as a weapon, but she doesn't.The narrator wonders what Moira would say about her situation. She thinks back to a conversation they had before all of the societal changes. In this flashback Moira criticizes the narrator for being with Luke, who is married to another woman. The narrator responds that it isn't fair for Moira to criticize her because she has become a lesbian.They are in the narrator's kitchen during this talk. They fight about whether a world without men is possible. The narrator says Moira was her dearest friend, then changes her verb to "is."The narrator describes a second flashback, when she worked in a library and waited for Luke's divorce to be finalized. She remembers how she used to have a job and how now that's such a foreign thing for a woman. The narrator compares women with jobs to using paper money, both of which are now obsolete. She remembers her mother showing her paper money. The narrator speculates that the political coup was possible because all the money was electronic.
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Chapter 28 Summary

  • What originally happened, at the start of this governmental change, was that the president and Congress were all assassinated, the army took over, and they stopped following the Constitution. The narrator reflects about how everyone sort of accepted this and didn't try to riot or revolt.Moira warned the narrator that things would get worse, but the narrator didn't know what she meant.The narrator describes how conditions worsened, identification became more important, and **** became illegal. One day the narrator commiserated about the situation with a woman who sold her cigarettes. The next day she went to the store and the woman was gone; a man was working there instead. Luke had taken their small daughter to school.The man working at the cigarette store tells the narrator she can't use her account to buy anything. She watches in disbelief as the man tries her account number again and, even though she has plenty of money in it, it freezes.She says she'll call the credit card company later. At work she keeps calling but can't get through. That afternoon her boss comes in and says women can't work there anymore; it's a new law. There are other men there with guns, and the women are forced to leave. They don't know what's going on.The narrator goes back to her empty house and isn't sure what to do. She tries to call her mother and can't get through, then finally gets to Moira
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Chapter 28 Summary

  • Moira arrives at the narrator's house and they have drinks while the narrator tells her what happened. Moira says all women's bank accounts have been frozen, and that they're screwed. The narrator's money will go to Luke, while Moira will find a gay man to help her access hers. The narrator thinks about how Moira is a little pleased that she had predicted this terrible thing and been right about it.The narrator picks her daughter up and they meet Luke at their house. They fight, as he comforts her and she says he can't understand her situation.Later the narrator realizes the men with guns hadn't been from the regular army; they were something else.The narrator reveals that some people protested, but not as many as you might think. Protesters were killed. She didn't protest because Luke said it wouldn't help. Instead she sat inside and cried. From this flashback, the narrator moves to an earlier one involving her mother. The narrator is fourteen in this memory and her mother had been protesting in a march for women's rights and abortion rights. Her mother had been hurt. She came home with some friends and the narrator was embarrassed. The narrator remembers how her mother would tell her she was a needed kid. The narrator thinks about how she wishes she could tell her mother they did okay.
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Chapter 28 Summary

  • The memory ends, and the narrator sees Nick walking around the house. He gives a signal, which means she has to go to the Commander. She wonders why Nick assists the Commander, what's in it for him, and whether he's trying to get anything on her.
  • Back to another flashback: Luke wants to have sex with the narrator the night she gets fired. The news has already changed her, though; she doubts him, and herself. She wonders if he doesn't mind having more power than she does, or getting to act like she belongs to him. She never gets to talk with him about how this really makes him feel.
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Chapter 29 Summary

  • The narrator and Commander are sitting across from each other in his office. They're both pretty relaxed. They are finishing up a Scrabble game, which she has won. He asks her if she would like to read something. She's been getting to read secretly during their meetings, which is better than sex. She asks if they can talk instead. She prods him to talk so she won't have to. She asks him what he does and he says he's sort of like a scientist.Finally she gets up the nerve to ask him what "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" means. She writes it down for him. Getting to write again fills her with a wave of power.The Commander says it's like nonsense Latin. It's a joke phrase, meaning "don't let the bastards grind you down" (29.40).The narrator realizes that the woman who was handmaid before her must have learned this from the Commander. She asks about her predecessor, and the Commander says she killed herself after the Wife found out. The narrator realizes what this is all about for the Commander: he "want[s] [her] life to be bearable to [her]" (29.54). She realizes she has a little power over him; he doesn't want her to die, and she knows he feels bad about what happened. He asks her what she would like, and she says knowledge about what's happening.
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Chapter 24- 29 (Setting as a literary convention/C

Concept- A writers choice of setting can reveal more about a character. Atwood uses symbolism throughout to reveal hidden messages about the characters and the regime.

 Setting as a literary convention

  1. List as many settings as you can think of that we have encountered in the novel so far (up to the end of chapter 23)
  2. How does Offred's character change in relation to the different settings?
    1. Night: Allows Offred to think about herself- thoughts from the past and able to explore her true identity
    2. The Red Centre-
    3. Commanders office- comes across as a shock to her.
    4. Shopping- can't give away any facial expressions and she can't speak. It is very restricted. 
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Symbolism- Flowers

What are flowers, in general, symbolic of? Fertility, Women, Fixed

Where are these flowers found in the novel? How does the symbolism of these flowers relate to Atwood's ideas?

  1. "watercolour picture of blue irises"
    1. Faint
    2. Reproduced in all the commanders' houses
    3. Wives - "blue"
    4. Part of your eye - "irises"
  2. "papered in small blue flowers, forget-me-nots"
    1. Bathroom
    2. When she was talking about her daughter
    3. Finds the memories so painful
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Symbolism- Flowers

  1. "red of the tulips"
    1. "red"- like the handmaids
  2. "a mist of lily-of-the-valley surrounds us"
    1. When the ceremony takes place in Serena Joys bedroom
  3. "A withered daffodil, not one from the dried arrangement"
    1. Symbolic of spring
    2. The daffodil belongs to Serena
    3. "dried arrangement" - serenas infertility
    4. "withered"- Offred
    5. Offred wants to gain a chance of fertility
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