Chapter 23-Pages 173-176 (Black+Red edition) and Pages 130-132 (White edition)
Offred vs. Moira
Offred vs. Moira
So far in The Handmaid's Tale, Moira has always seemed to act as a foil to Offred, in that they represent complete opposites; being rebellious and obedient, respectively. However, I postulate that this relationship between these two characters stretches beyond that of just foils, and that they’re in actuality shadows (unconscious aspect of the personality which is rejected by the conscious) to one another. The idea of Moira being the shadow of Offred is evident in this passage because this passage is narrated as a memory. As such this “memory” is subject to change in Offred’s mind, allowing for the depiction of Moira as Offred's shadow. One paragraph in particular demonstrates her likeness to Moira:
“I think about how I could take the back of the toilet apart, the toilet in my own bathroom, on a bath night, quickly and quietly, so Cora outside on the chair would not hear me. I could get the sharp lever out and hide it in my sleeve, and smuggle it into the Commander’s study, the next time, because after a request like that there’s always a next time, whether you say yes or not. I think about how I could approach the Commander, to kiss him, here alone, and take off his jacket, as if to allow or invite something
further, some approach to true love, and put my arms around him and slip the lever out from the sleeve and drive the sharp end into him suddenly, between his ribs. I think about the blood coming out of him, hot as soup, sexual, over my hands.” (p.175-176)
This paragraph mirrors the events that occurred when Moira escaped (with the Aunt Elizabeth in the place of the commander and without the actual stabbing). Thus she shared similar thoughts/ideas to Moira. Offred proceeds to state that this is actually a “reconstruction” and she was thinking nothing of the sort during this event:
“In fact I don’t think about anything of the kind. I put it in only afterwards. Maybe I should have thought about that, at the time, but I didn't. As I said, this is a reconstruction.” (p.176)
This idea of reconstruction lends itself well to the idea of Moira being a shadow because it means that Offred did not actually have these thoughts during the event, but still decided to add them afterwards. As a result, I think that she has always had these thoughts in the back of her mind but is unable to bring forth these ideas due to her obedient nature, she is afraid to disobey, hence resulting in these thoughts becoming her shadow.
Tense vs. Enjoyment
Tense vs. Enjoyment
At first glance this passage seems to depict Offred in a tense/nervous state for the duration of the passage. This can be seen on various occasions, one of which is through irrelevant questioning:
“Yes? Yes yes? What, then? What does he want?”. (p.173)
This repeated question shows that she is impatient, and as a result nervous. This tense state is also seen through her lack of speech throughout the passage. This hints that she can in fact hardly speak out of fear, as seen in the quote,“I can in fact hardly speak.” (pg.174).This is when she is replying to the Commander’s demand to play Scrabble with him. This state is reinforced even further through the paragraph explaining how she would kill the Commander:
"I could get the sharp lever out and hide it in my sleeve, and smuggle it into the Commander’s study, the next time, because after a request like that there’s always a next time, whether you say yes or not. I think about how I could approach the Commander, tokiss him, here alone, and take off his jacket, as if to allow or invite something further, some approach to true love, and put my arms around him and slip the lever out from the sleeve and drive the sharp end into him suddenly, between his ribs. I think about the blood coming out of him, hot as soup, sexual, over my hands.” (p.175-176)
This enhances the idea of hatred and despise towards the Commander. Thus resulting in a sense of tension and fear throughout the passage.
However, the tension that is created seems to mask enjoyment that Offred finds in this meeting. I believe that Offred found enjoyment in this meeting with the commander despite the above statements. The biggest hints towards this sense of enjoyment is through the breaks of hertrain of thought throughout the passage. The first of these breaks in thought occurs when the Commander reveals that he wants to play Scrabble:
“So that’s what’s in the forbidden room! Scrabble! I want to laugh, shriek with laughter, fall off my chair.” (p.174)
This quote, in the form of a sarcastic comment, shows that despite the tense atmosphere in the writing of this event she still manages to find humor. The second break of thought that hints towards the idea of enjoyment can be seen in the following paragraph:
“I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it. Limp, I spell. Gorge. What a luxury. The counters are like candies, made of peppermint, cool like that. Humbugs, those were called. I would like to put them into my mouth. They would taste also of lime. The letter C. Crisp, slightly acid on the tongue, delicious.” (p.174)
This quote deals with the idea of enjoyment but instead of using humor it uses desire. This sense of desire is accomplished through being deprived from being able to play Scrabble. Due to this deprivation she begins to see Scrabble as desirable, or as in her words “a luxury”, and as a result she finds enjoyment in having this luxury. The final break of thought occurs due to the idea of control. Offred as a character has already exhibited enjoyment over receiving control, specifically in Chapter 4 this is seen after she flirts with the guardsmen at the gate:
“I enjoy the power; power of a dog bone, passive but there.” (p.28)
This enjoyment over power is also seen in this passage, as she realizes that he is in a just as compromising position. This is seen towards the end of the passage where she takes on the role of a temptress and seduces the Commander to leave him in a saddened state:
“He draws away, looks down at me. There’s the smile again, the sheepish one. Such candor. ‘Not like that,’ he says. ‘As if you meant it.’ He was so sad.” (p. 176)
This sense of power and control over the Commander even extends to her superiority at Scrabble. Which is scene in the following quote:
“I win the first game, I let him win the second: I still haven’t discovered what the terms are, what I will be able to ask for, in exchange.” (p.175)
The fact that she “let” him win the second game shows that she has or at at believes to have power over the Commander. With this in mind, Offred finds joy in this control just as she found joy in the control of the guardians in chapter 4.
Past vs. Present
Past vs. Present
In the passage, Offred makes a couple references to her past in order to provide a form of comparison so that the reader can relate their difference. This comparison is easy to be seen as being complete opposites, though despite these difference I was able to note some similarities. Most notably, when she first refers to Scrabble in her past:
“This was once the game of old women, old men, in the summers or in retirement villas, to be played when there was nothing good on television. Or of adolescents, once, long long ago. My mother has a set, kept at the back of the hall cupboard, with the Christmas tree decorations in their cardboard boxes. Once she tried to interest me in it, when I was thirteen and miserable and at loose ends.” (p.174)
This quote addresses Scrabble as being something that people would play when there was nothing else to do (in other words when they were bored). Offred leads the reader to believe that this game had changed by saying; “Now it’s desirable” (pg.174). However, this desire she mentions is no different than the reasoning behind the old people playing the game, as the desire she feels to play the game is because she is bored with the life she is living. Thus the past and present in terms of Scrabble aren’t that significantly different, and is reinforced further as her mother tried to interest her because she was miserable and bored. The point where she mentions the game as a game for old people, is potentially due to the context of this memory as she talks about it when she was thirteen. This age causes a skew in the appearance of age groups resulting in the thought of people at a much higher age group than they actually are, which would result in the age group that she thought was old being the age group she currently is in.
Note: page references for the quotes are from the red edition of The Handmaids Tale.