The Handmaid's Tale Part 14: Salvaging
The narrator wishes her story was different, less painful, less fragmented, more focused, more complimentary to herself. However, she wants to tell as much of the truth as possible. She wants someone to hear her story.
She admits to visiting Nick numerous times to gratify herself. She expected him to shut her out at some point, but he never did. She always asks him if it is too late, and he always says no. She asks anyway. "It makes me feel more in control, as if there is a choice, a decision that could be made one way or the other." Chapter 41, pg. 269 Each time, they make love as if it were the last time, as if this one last time was a gift. Offred tries to remember every detail of Nick's appearance. Luke is fading in her memory, and she is becoming faithless. She tells him her real name and stories about Moira, but not about Luke. He talks little. They never mention love.
It is midsummer now. Ofglen suggests that Offred look through the Commander's desk for information. Offred refuses. She does not want to risk loosing Nick. She thinks she may be pregnant with his child. Some days she thinks she is in love. Some days she thinks she has adapted to the conditions.
One morning, Offred attends a district Women's Salvaging, execution. All the Handmaids kneel on red cushions in front of a stage set up inside the former university. Offred thinks of making love until she sees the women to be salvaged, two Handmaids and one Wife, sitting on the stage. Two Aunts and the executioners take the stage. Offred recognizes Aunt Lydia and realizes she hates her. She ignores Aunt Lydia's speech. Aunt Lydia announces that a description of the crimes of the prisoners will be dispensed with because similar accounts during televised executions have been followed by an increase in similar crimes. "The crimes of others are a secret language among us. Through them we show ourselves what we might be capable of, after all. This is not a popular announcement." Chapter 42, pg. 275 The first woman is brought up to the noose. A Handmaid behind Offred begins vomiting. Offred has seen this before, has symbolically consented to the executions before. She does not want to see anymore.
When the Salvaging is concluded, Aunt Lydia asks all the Handmaids to form a circle for a Particicution. Two Guardians drag a beaten man into the center of the circle. Offred thinks he looks drunk. Aunt Lydia announces his crime as rape involving the murder of an unborn child. This announcement inspires hatred in all the Handmaids. Aunt Lydia blows a whistle and before the man can protest the crowd of Handmaids is upon him. Ofglen makes her way to the front and knocks out the fallen man with a few well-placed kicks to his head. Offred is shocked and revolted by this at first, but Ofglen quickly explains that the man was not a rapist at all. He was a member of her network and was being killed for political crimes. She was simply making his death less painful for him. Janine walks by with an absent smile on her face and a clump of the man's hair in her fist. Offred is notices that she is ravenously hungry. She thinks it is her body's self-affirming reaction to death.
Later that day when Offred goes shopping she finds that a new Handmaid has replaced Ofglen. They converse cautiously. After shopping they go to the Wall. Ofglen comments that the women hanging there should be a reminder to them. Offred says, "yes" rather than the more acceptable "praise be," but gets no distinguishable reaction from the new Ofglen. As they approach their houses, Offred hazards trying the password on Ofglen. Ofglen responds coldly. Offred believes the new Ofglen knows about the network and is warning her not to persist in folly. Offred begins to fear what may happen to her if the former Ofglen reveals that Offred knows about the network. When they part, Ofglen whispers to Offred that the former Ofglen hung herself that morning because she saw the van of the Eyes coming for her. Offred immediately feels relieved that this link between her and crime has been eliminated.
"Dear God, I think, I will do anything you like. Now that you've let me off, I'll obliterate myself, if that is what you really want; I'll empty myself, truly, become a chalice. I'll give up Nick, I'll forget about the others, I'll stop complaining. I'll accept my lot. I'll sacrifice. I'll repent. I'll abdicate. I'll renounce." Chapter 45, pg. 286
The threat of death, which she feels she has nearly escaped, has caused her to become abject to the demands and teachings of the government. She experiences the true power of the government for the first time. As she walks toward the house, she notices Serena on the front steps calling her. She is angry with Offred. She drops the winter cloak and purple dress on the stairs and tells Offred to take them up to her room. She calls her a slut. Offred wants to run to Nick who has stopped whistling just behind her, but she walks calmly into the house and up to her room instead.