Book Notes Part 6: Household Notes from The Handmaid's Tale

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The Handmaid's Tale Part 6: Household

Offred joins Rita and Cora in the sitting room. She kneels next to Serena Joy's chair. Nick enters, followed by Serena. Serena turns on the television and flips through sermons and blocked channels to the news. There is news of war victories, and the anchorman soothingly assures viewers that peace will come soon. The Quaker and Baptist insurgents will be quelled. Serena turns off the television and Offred begins to daydream of her other forbidden name and then of her escape across the border with Luke and her daughter. Then the Commander knocks and enters the sitting room. He looks puzzled, but moves to his chair , removes the Bible from a locked box, and begins reading a passage from it to the household. Offred is lulled into reflection by the sections that were taught at the Red Center. "Give me children, or else I die. Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear fruit upon my knees, that I may also have children by her." Chapter 15, pg. 88 This is the precedent set forth in the Bible upon which Offred's new life is based. She remembers Moira threatening to play sick and seduce the Angels in the ambulance in order to escape the Red Center. The Commander finishes the passage and asks everyone to pray silently. Serena Joy has begun to cry. The only thing Offred can think of to say to God is Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Then she beings thinking about how Moira was taken away from the Red Center in an ambulance only to be brought back soon after and punished. Her feet were lacerated with frayed steel cables. They did not care about the feet of a woman. The Commander ended the prayer and dismissed the household.

Topic Tracking: Religion 4
Topic Tracking: Religion 5

The Ceremony continued upstairs in Serena Joy's bedroom. Offred lay between Serena Joy's legs with her head resting on her pelvis and her hand's clasped in Serena Joy's hands. Offred's skirt is lifted above her waist and the Commander is preoccupied with the lower half of her body. Offred does not see this as rape because she has agreed to it. It is not copulation because only one person is involved. Offred feels neither desire nor love. Arousal is considered to be frivolous. The Commander comes at last and leaves the room silently. Serena Joy sends Offred out of the room with loathing.

Topic Tracking: Sexual Power Struggle 6

Offred retires to her bedroom and takes the butter she has reserved out of her shoe. She rubs it into her face. Lotion was outlawed as vain. Many Handmaids do this in hope of retaining their beauty till they can be loved freely again. Offred wants Luke desperately. This impossible desire is followed by a desire to steal. She sneaks down to the sitting room hoping to take a wilted daffodil she saw in a vase that evening. Nick discovers her there. In the darkness, they embrace and kiss with unbolted desire. He tells her he was coming to find her to tell her that the Commander wishes to see her in his office the following evening. They part with difficulty.

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