Chapter 7- Chapter 17 Handmaids Tale


Chapter 7

Concept: The writers choice of narrative structure gives further insight into the character of the narrator

Atwood divides the novel into sections, with chapters within these

  • What do you notice about the names of these sections?
  • What could be the purpose with Atwood's choices here?


Allows Offred to think about herself- thoughts from the past and able to explore her true identity

 Other chapters:

  • Able to repurpose her life, things that happen in the new world.


  • Promiscuous
  • Has biblical connotations
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Chapter 7

What significance does the night have for Offred?:

  • In cycle
  • Upfront about everything
  • Only has one possession
  • The Night is hers, but only hers if she follows certain rules and conditions
  • Dangerous, people will still be watching her "As long as I lie still"
  • Aware of all consequences if she doesn't conform to the societal expectations  

You can describe the narrative structure of the Handmaids Tale as being disjointed, nonlinear, or disrupted 



Chapter 7

Tries to get rid of any memories, trying to keep the past alive. Wants to remember the happier times.

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Chapter 7- Summary


  • At night, the narrator gets to be by herself. She has to be very still but at least she can think.
  • She remembers hanging outwith her friend Moira when they were in college, wearing makeup, getting to go out, and drinking.
  • Then she thinks of going to a park with her mother to watch people burn magazines. The narrator gets to help, even though she's little. The magazines are ****.
  • Then she has a memory blank. What happened? She was restrained, screaming. Someone told her she was not suitable. She saw a young girl with a strange woman in strange clothes taken away.
  • The narrator says she wishes this were a story so she could change the outcome. She has to tell it, not write it, because that's too dangerous. She has no audience, so she'll invent one
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Chapter 8

Connotations of Waiting Room:

  • Boredom/ Monotony
  • Expectation- something will happen
  • Hospital/ Dental/ health
  • Tests/ exams
  • Dread/Nervous/ Anxiety

 Offred often plays around with language, exploring different connotations and meanings of words. She diverts her narration into tangents or digressions

 Tangents and Digressions:

  • Switches from talking about ice cream to the bodies hanging on the wall (being a dark image)
  • Goes back to memories
  • Ends the paragraph in a very dramatic way "help"
  • Remembers the time when there was an attempt to assassinate Serena Joy
  • Exposition (past memories allows this to happen)
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Chapter 8

Several different timelines that run throughout the chapters:

  • Primary Narrative/ timeline/ plot
    • Where she is entering the commanders house
  • Luke/ child
    • She had an affair with Luke
    • Talks about how the relationship with Luke started
    • Someone tried to adopt her child in the past
    • Offred doesn’t want to believe that her daughter may be dead (want's to try and keep this memory alive) 
  • Mum/ Moira
    • Moira was Offred's Friend and they used to do a lot together and had a lot of freedom (past thoughts) 
  • Red Centre 
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Chapter 8- Summary

  • More bodies appear on the Wall: a priest and two Gender Treachery practitioners. The narrator tells Ofglen they should leave. Ofglen says, "It's a beautiful May day" (8.7). The narrator responds abstractly while remembering talking with Luke about the origin of the word Mayday. It's something ships called for, for help. He said it was from the French m'aidez, or "help me."Ofglen and the narrator pass a funeral march of three women, all Econowives. They are conducting a funeral for a fetus that died at just a few months.They keep walking and part ways. It seems like Ofglen's about to say something when they part, but she doesn't. The narrator pauses by Nick on her way inside. He asks her a question, but she just nods. She goes inside and thinks about Serena Joy. She doesn't like the name and knows it's fake. 
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Chapter 8- Summary

She also knows there was an assassination attempt on Serena Joy, who used to be famous years ago. She preached about women staying in the home. Luke found her amusing but the narrator thought she was frightening.Serena Joy is becoming less and less beautiful and doesn't greet the narrator at all when she passes.The narrator recalls how Aunt Lydia said the Wives were more dangerous than the husbands, and that Handmaids should feel for them. Aunt Lydia said the future was "in [their] hands." The narrator takes her basket into the kitchen, where Rita is chopping carrots. Its smells remind her of her own kitchen and motherhood. She tells Rita about the oranges.Rita takes her to the kitchen and says it's bath day. Cora comes in. They talk about the chicken and the chores, including giving the narrator her bath. The narrator leaves, passing through the hallway on her way to her room.She sees the Commander. He's out of context and shouldn't be there; she doesn't know how to respond or what to do. She thinks he was in her room, unused to thinking of it as hers. 

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Chapter 9

Tangents and digressions:

  • Thinks about previous family in the room (very inquisitive nature, desire to learn about things, doesn't want the society to suppress any of her thoughts
  • Relationship with Luke (how it started etc)
  • Not sure who Luke is and where he is now
  • Correlation between the room she is in now and where she was earlier 
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Chapter 9- Summary

  • So the narrator accepts the room as her own, although it's obviously not where she would choose to be. She thinks of how another woman lived there before her. When she arrived, she explored the room as slowly as she could. She thinks of hotel rooms, how she used to meet Luke at them before they got married, when he was with his first wife. They loved each other.She can't think about him too much, so she thinks about the rooms, where they were free to do as they liked.The narrator divides the room into sections, and each day she looks at a new one. One day she finds sex stains on the mattress. This proof of love (or at least sex) made her think of Luke. The room is supposed to be suicide-proof. When she explores the cupboard, she notices hooks you could hang yourself on and some writing scratched on the floor, maybe in Latin: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. She savors this piece of text from the past and imagines the woman who wrote it to be like her friend Moira from before the war.After the narrator discovers the message, she asks Rita what happened to the woman before her. Rita doesn't reveal much, just that there'd been a few women there before her, and not all of them had stayed for the two years they were supposed to. Rita won't say what happened to the last woman... just that "she didn't work out" (9.26). 
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Chapter 10

Tangents and Digressions:

  • Sings Amazing Grace to herself (distracting herself, has links to sex and is considered dangerous)
  • Reveals how constricted she is within society
  • Keeps thinking back to her friend Moira and the freedom that she had then (in the past) and this contrasts to her current life
  • Mentions her positive aspects in her past life (sees this as the perfect life)
  • Regime can read her thoughts (goes from talking about the weather from singing)
  • Doesn't want to go down a track which is dangerous
  • She needs to be very careful about what she says and how she appears in society (as this may lead to danger)
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Chapter 10- Summary

  • The narrator sings little songs to herself in her head—"Amazing Grace" and so on—although they're forbidden now. Very little music exists in the current world.
  • It's really hot. Soon she'll be able to wear the summer version of her outfit but still be covered up. She thinks of Aunt Lydia's lectures and about how she should behave.
  • The narrator flashes back to Moira, who wanted to have an "underwhore" party when they were young, where they'd trade cheap lingerie. They laughed and smoked and were free.
  • The narrator recalls how they acted like things were normal then, just as everybody acts like things are normal now. They ignored crimes that didn't happen to them.
  • She hears a car outside. She sits on a pillow embroidered with the word "FAITH." This is all she has to read.
  • She looks out and sees Nick followed by the Commander. She's close enough that she could throw something at him. She remembers throwing water bombs at boys with Moira back in college. She watches the Commander's car drive away and tries to define her feelings about him. 
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Chapter 11


  • Used to this "once a month" "obligatory"
  • Knows that there is no escaping from this procedure
  • After saying that no one goes with her, she doesn't explain why, instead tells us why she is taken to the doctors once a month
  • When the doctor starts to speak to her, she has no time to process the information and she tells herself it is wrong
  • Goes off on a little tangent talking about how there is no sterile man and talks about the law to do with women.
  • Feels anxious after this but isn't sure as to why this is.
  • This situation is no surprise to us.
  • Doctor has power over her, has to try and remain alert, doesn't want to go off and forget what he is talking to her about.
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Chapter 11- Summary

  • The narrator thinks about how she went to the doctor the previous day. It's the only activity she gets to do by herself, and even then she's not alone. A Guardian drives her there. She has to visit the doctor each month to have her fertility and health checked. In the waiting room, all the other women are dressed in red too. When it's the narrator's turn, she goes into a white room and gives a urine sample. Then she undresses and gets under a sheet. A second sheet covers her face so the doctor won't see it. The doctor comes in to examine her. He speaks to her, even though he shouldn't. While he performs his invasive examination, he offers to help her. He lifts up the sheet and looks at her face.At first she thinks he means help her with news of Luke. But he's offering to have sex with her so maybe she'll get pregnant. He insinuates that the man she works for is sterile and that he could help her—he's done it for other people.It's dangerous to say that men are sterile, because the society blames infertility exclusively on women. The narrator thinks vaguely that if she can't have children, she might die. The doctor seems genuine, but it's hard to tell. He could be a spy, and if they got caught, it would mean death. The narrator has to be cautious, though, because he could report her if she doesn't give him what he wants.He leaves and she feels anxious but isn't sure why. The memory ends. 
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Chapter 12

Tangents and Digressions:

  • References Lydia and what she says (helps her to know what she needs to think)
  • Describes how her daughter is there when she is in the bath (feels that she is there, presence, thinks of her as a ghost)
  • Describes her past experiences of her daughter
  • She has clear memories of her daughter, but they are slowly fading
  • Men have more power in the relationship
  • New order of society
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Chapter 12- Summary

  • Back at the Commander's the narrator describes the bathroom. It's all blue and has been safety-proofed, just like the bedroom. Cora waits outside like a guard while the narrator bathes. The narrator feels weird in what's a "luxury" (12.2) and strange being naked. She feels stranger still that the way she used to dress would be immodest now. She relaxes in the bath and imagines her daughter is there. She refuses to believe her daughter could be dead and thinks back to how someone tried to adopt her when she was a baby. They were in a supermarket when a crazy woman grabbed the girl and tried to run away, saying it was her baby. The narrator called for help and they got the baby back. At the time, she says, it seemed out of the ordinary. The memory of the little girl vanishes, and the narrator thinks back to the mother she used to be. All their possessions are gone, too. Aunt Lydia had told her to treasure being poor and having nothing. The narrator worries that her daughter will think she is dead. She thinks her daughter would be about eight now, which means it's been three years since she was taken.Cora asks the narrator to hurry up. She cleans herself and notices that her ankle has been marked with a tattoo. She gets dressed again and goes back to her room.Cora brings the narrator dinner in her room. The food is nutritious but bland. 
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  • Hint to intentions
  • Helps to understand on a deeper level - resolution
  • Length/ depth can enhance/subtract from enjoyment

 Concept: Themes are a way of connecting a text to wider human experience and literary canon

 Theme= a recurring idea that develops and is a central idea

Motif= an idea or image that is repeated and explains a theme


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Chapter 13- Summary

  • The narrator is bored. She sits in her room, waiting, and thinks about 19th-century paintings of harem women, about how women waiting is or isn't ****. She compares herself to a pig getting fattened or a caged rat.Lying on the rug, she does pelvic exercises and thinks of the training she got from Aunt Lydia.When she was being held in the gymnasium, they had naps for an hour every afternoon. Lots of the women slept. The narrator thinks they might have been drugged. After she'd been there a couple weeks, her friend Moira arrived. She'd been captured, beaten, and brought to the Center with the other women. She and the narrator couldn't speak to one another, but they managed to make plans to meet in the bathroom one afternoon.The narrator experiences the next memory in the present tense. They wait. Their meeting time is during Testifying in front of Aunt Helena and Aunt Lydia that afternoon.Janine testifies about being ***** and having an abortion. The narrator's not sure if it's true or not. Aunt Helena encourages them to all blame Janine and say it was her fault.
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Chapter 13- Summary

  • Janine had testified the same story the previous week and cried. The other women made fun of her, and the narrator was ashamed.After Janine is done talking, the narrator asks to go to the bathroom. This has to be timed just right. Dolores was forbidden when she asked once, then she wet the bed and was punished. The Aunts hurt her but the other captives don't know what happened. The narrator makes it to meet Moira in the bathroom that used to be for men. She is "ridiculously happy" (13.43). The memory ends and the narrator is back in her body. She worries about getting her period, because that means she's failed. Previously, she'd been able to think of her body in different ways and to own it. Now it's just a uterus encased in flesh. Each month she feels awful.The narrator sees herself in the apartment she used to share with Luke. It's completely empty except for the closet, which is full of clothes that don't belong to her. She sees Luke but he can't hear her. She worries that he's dead.Then the narrator flashes to another memory, where she and her daughter are running away. The daughter is tired and sad, and she doesn't understand what they're doing. Someone shoots at them and they hide. The narrator tries to protect her daughter but can't.People are upon them. They grab the narrator and she watches as her daughter is carried away.A bell rings and the narrator wakes up, hearing Cora at the door. 
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Chapter 14 Summary

  • The bell keeps ringing and the narrator goes into the sitting room, which she describes as weirdly, domestically furnished and reflecting a great deal of wealth.The room's smells remind her of young girls, and she wishes she could take something secretly to hide in her own room.She sits in her assigned position and waits for other people to come in.
  • Rita and Cora come in grudgingly. The narrator thinks it's her fault. Nick enters too. The narrator thinks his foot touches hers but isn't sure. Then Serena Joy comes in.
  • While they're waiting, Serena Joy turns on the TV. The narrator is excited by the rare opportunity to watch the news. She reveals that it's the only positive aspect of nights like this, which have Ceremonies.
  • The news program reveals the war is still going, but only shows wins for the side in charge. In the Appalachians, Baptists are being persecuted and a prisoner has been caught.
  • The narrator tries not to believe the news anchor, who looks like a nice old man. He says a spy ring has been cracked and Quakers have been captured. This is followed by an image of Detroit, where over 3,000 people are being resettled—the narrator doesn't know why.
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Chapter 14 Summary

  • Serena Joy turns off the TV, and the narrator has a flashback.
  • In the flashback the narrator has a real name. She doesn't reveal what it is, but it's not the same as her name in this household, which is Offred. She treasures her old name and hopes to have it back someday.
  • The narrator tries not to cry while she remembers herself and Luke trying to escape with their daughter. They said they were going on a picnic, but actually they had forged papers and were trying to cross the border... which is illegal and very dangerous.
  • On their way to the border, they get through the first inspection without a problem. As they keep going, the narrator worries, even though Moira would have told her not to. Luke seems happy and relieved, which makes the narrator even more concerned. 
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Chapter 15 Summary

  • The flashback is over and the Commander comes into the room after knocking first. He nods to them, and then gets out the Bible, which is usually locked away. He's going to read it to the others, who are not allowed to read. He asks for some water before beginning. While they wait for someone to get water, the narrator watches the Commander and thinks about what it means for a man to be watched by women rather than the reverse.After the water comes, the Commander reads to them from Genesis, about Adam, Noah, Rachel, and Leah. The narrator is familiar with these stories from the Center, where they heard them every day. In another flashback, the narrator remembers the Center, where they had to listen to Genesis at breakfast and the Beatitudes at lunch. Since women aren't supposed to read, they play a recorded version of a man reading. This version has been altered, the narrator thinks, to include "Blessed are the silent."On this particular day in the narrator's memory, she meets Moira in the bathroom during lunch. The two argue. Moira is going to fake being sick so she can get out of the center, but the narrator doesn't want her to—she's afraid of the consequences. 
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Chapter 15 Summary

  • Before they can finish their conversation an Aunt interrupts them, and they touch fingers through a hole in the wall before separating. The memory ends and the narrator listens to the Commander finish reading about Leah, while Serena Joy cries quietly. The Commander says they should all pray.The narrator prays with the Latin words she found in her closet. She imagines the woman who wrote them looks like Moira and returns to her flashback.
  • She watches Moira get taken out of the Center on a stretcher. That night Moira is brought back by force. The narrator watches as Moira is taken into a scary room. It's not clear whether the narrator ever went in the room herself or just knows what happened there from watching others go in. When Moira is brought out of the room, her feet have been beaten to a bloody pulp.
  • To try to help, the narrator and some other women steal sugar to give to her; it's the best they can do.
  • The narrator ends her flashback but is still thinking about Moira while she prays.
  • The Commander finishes his prayer and this part of the Ceremony concludes. 
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Chapter 16 Summary

  • In the next part of the Ceremony, the narrator, Serena Joy, and the Commander are in a bedroom. The narrator has on all her clothes except her underwear, while the other two are basically fully clothed, and she is lying between Serena Joy's legs. The two women are holding hands while the Commander has sexual intercourse with the narrator.
  • The narrator states that she is not in control, but that the Commander is not ****** her, because she was offered a choice and she chose this over the alternative.
  • The narrator thinks that it's ironic how this ménage a trois, which in prewar time would have been a male fantasy, is completely without love, passion, or pleasure. Everyone is just uncomfortably doing his or her job, and they check out until it's over.
  • The narrator wonders if she'd have a better time if the Commander were more attractive, and reflects that he's better than the Commander she had before, who smelled bad.
  • The Commander finishes and leaves. Serena Joy tells the narrator to leave too. The narrator wonders who is worse off in this whole process. 
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Chapter 17 Summary

  • Back in her room, such as it is, the narrator gets ready for bed. She takes the butter out of her shoe and uses it as a moisturizer. She says she does this whenever she gets the chance; it's a strategy she learned at the Center. By doing this, she keeps alive the hope that she might become free and reclaim her body.She lies on her bed but cannot fall asleep, so she goes to look out the window. She thinks about how much she misses Luke. She misses her old self and decides to steal something to remind herself of who she was.
  • The narrator goes downstairs, even though this is breaking all kinds of rules. She is about to steal a flower from one of the vases—all she can manage—when she realizes she isn't alone.
  • The door closes and she's trapped. A voice tells her not to shout, and she realizes it's Nick. They kiss, violently. Both would like to do more, but they know it's too dangerous.
  • The narrator tries to tell herself that Luke wouldn't mind if she enjoyed being touched, but she knows it's not true.
  • Nick tells her the Commander wants to "see [her]" in his office the next day. The narrator's not sure what that means, but they separate and she goes back upstairs. 
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