Notes on The Handmaid's Tale Themes

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The Handmaid's Tale Topic Tracking: Sexual Power Struggle

Chapter 4

Sexual Power Struggle 1: Offred tempts a Guardian by looking into his eyes when he asks for her identification and swaying her hips as she walks away. Though her ability to seduce men is limited by her government-prescribed clothing and lifestyle, she still enjoys what is left to her of that power. She hopes men suffer from unsatisfied lust.

Chapter 6

Sexual Power Struggle 2: Six doctors hang on the Wall of the prison. The government has executed them for performing abortions, even though at the time they were legal.

Chapter 7

Sexual Power Struggle 3: Offred recalls attending an anti-pornography demonstration with her mother as a child. Her mother's friend gave her a magazine to throw into a bonfire and she saw a pornographic image on the cover. Offred was not disturbed by the image, but her mother was disturbed that she had seen it.

Chapter 8

Sexual Power Struggle 4: Serena Joy is an unfertile Wife. She has failed to do what her society values women for most. She is given powers in her household and over her husband, but she has no cards to play in the struggle for sexual power. She is defeated in this sense, and replaced by Offred.

Chapter 12

Sexual Power Struggle 5: Offred says that she dislikes her body because it determines her so completely. At the Red Center, Handmaids were taught that the new government would free them from objectification, but really it has instituted a new kind of objectification.

Chapter 18

Sexual Power Struggle 6: The Ceremony demonstrates a loss of sexual power to all those involved. Choice is denied to all of them and sexual arousal is denied to both women. The government has promised Offred freedom from male sexual aggression, and this is what they have replaced it with.

Chapter 19

Sexual Power Struggle 7: Offred remembers her mother's role in the feminist movement and her criticism of Offred's lifestyle. Her mother never married, but raised a child alone. She did not value men. She thought Offred took the advances of feminism for granted and told her that she did not need Luke. Offred valued men and considered her mother a bit of a fanatic.

Chapter 22

Sexual Power Struggle 8: When Moira escapes the Handmaids think of her as a hero. Moira had demonstrated that she had power and freed herself, if temporarily, from the domination imposed by the Red Center. Offred describes her as a loose women, which implies sexual freedom.

Chapter 26

Sexual Power Struggle 9: The Commander's secret meetings with Offred have undermined the arrangements of the government for Offred. The secret she shares with the Commander gives her power to ask favors from him and separates her further from his Wife. Offred makes fun of the idealistic community of women that was the goal of the Republic.

Chapter 28

Sexual Power Struggle 10: Offred remembers Moira's statements about heterosexuality versus homosexuality. She said luring men away from other women was not the same as luring women away from their women lovers because there was a balance of power in homosexual sex. Offred thinks this is absurd.

Chapter 32

Sexual Power Struggle 11: The Commander explains the plight of men before the Republic. They were loosing interest in procreation. Under the new system men desire women again. He acknowledges that women have suffered in the process.

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