The Handmaid's Tale Part 4: Waiting Room
There are three new bodies on the Wall. A priest and two Guardians accused of Gender Treachery. Offred again resents Ofglen's meek appearance. As they head home they pass a funeral procession. An Econowive has miscarried. The handmaid's put their hands over their hearts in a gesture of sympathy but are scowled at by the Econowives who generally dislike Handmaids. Offred rebuffs a friendly Nick on her way into the house before passing by Serena Joy in the garden. Offred remembers watching Serena Joy make speeches on television about the sanctity of the home, and how women should stay in the home. "She doesn't make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn't seem to agree with her. How furious she must be now that she has been taken at her word." Chapter 8, pg. 46 Serena Joy doesn't acknowledge Offred's presence. According to the values of society, Serena is a defeated woman, while Offred is the hope for the future.
Entering the kitchen, the smell of bread taunts Offred with memories of the past and she looks at Rita's sharp knife covetously. Rita and Cora decide who will bathe Offred, and Offred goes upstairs to wait in her room. In the hallway she catches the Commander looking into her room. He turns and walks around her silently. Offred is shocked and excited by this violation of custom. She feels a surge of ownership for her private space, which has not felt recently. When she arrived in the house she decided to meticulously explore her room to fill her free hours. She remembers the hotel rooms she explored quickly and carelessly while waiting for Luke to meet her. She was happy then, but she did not know it. On the third day of her exploration she found evidence of a previous Handmaid. On the inside of her cupboard the words, "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" (Don't let the bastards grind you down), were scratched. Chapter 9, pg. 52 Offred was pleased that this taboo message had reached her though she did not understand it. She speculated about who wrote it. It reminded her of energetic, quirky Moira. Rita would not give her any information about previous Handmaids.
Offred sings to herself, but all the songs she sings are now outlawed. Serena Joy listens to tapes of her youthful voice, but does not want to be caught remembering her former glory. It is hot in the house. Offred remembers Aunt Lydia lamenting with religious fervor the vile, former practice of sun tanning. Offred wanted to cry too, because Aunt Lydia's mouth reminded her of the dead mice her cat used to leave on the doorstep. Thoughts of Moira follow. She planned a lingerie-party and dropped water balloons on college boys from her dorm window. Offred remembers the gruesome crimes that occurred before the war, but they were not a part of her life. She could ignore them. "We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. It gave us more freedom." Chapter 10, pg. 57 Offred sees the Commander outside the window and thinks she ought to feel hatred for him, but she does not. Nor does she feel love. Her feelings towards him are more complicated.
Offred is taken to the doctor's office for her obligatory monthly exam. In the examining room she undresses, lies down, and covers her body with a sheet. A curtain runs from the ceiling to her shoulders as well, hiding her face from the doctor. When the doctor comes in he performs the check-up and then whispers a proposal to Offred. Would she like him to help her have a baby? She is terrified by the choice he is offering her. He reasons that the Commander is probably sterile. This expression is forbidden; by law there are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren. Offred does want a child because she wants to be saved from death or exile to the Colonies, but she puts off his proposal in fear of being caught.
Taking a bath, Offred remembers her baby girl. A woman tried to steal her baby at a grocery store once. Offred thinks of her daughter as a ghost at times. Her daughter was taken from her when she was five years old. It has been three years since then. Aunt Lydia said not to think about it. She notices the number tattooed upon her ankle. As she dresses after the bath she remembers an image of women getting their heads shaved in a town square, but she cannot remember what they had done and assumes it must have been a long time ago. She is remembering events from the end of World War II, in which women who dated the Nazi occupiers had their heads shaven in public. She dislikes looking at her body. "I don't want to look at something that determines me so completely." Chapter 12, pg. 63 Offred feels nauseous when she is served dinner in her room, but she forces the food down so as not to get into trouble. She imagines the Commander's Wife leaving her food untouched. Then she wraps up the butter on her plate and puts it in the toe of her shoe. Then she waits.
"I wait. I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech. What I must present is a made thing, not something born." Chapter 12, pg. 66