Feminism - Suhash Aravindan

Note: all the quotes will refer to the black and red version of the book.

To summarise this passage from The Handmaid’s Tale, “Scrabble Game” is when Offred secretly enters the Commander’s office, responding to his request for her presence. The Commander shyly asks her to play Scrabble and they play a few games. Before leaving, Offred is asked for a kiss by the Commander, and she complies, but the Commander is disappointed how distant it feels. The passage contains three prominent topics that would catch the attention of feminists: the oppression of women, women having to use their body, and society’s pressure manipulating the thoughts of women.

The oppression of women is present throughout the novel. The society of the Republic of Gilead follows many rules that encourage male dominance, even though they are justified by verses from the Bible. A form in which women are oppressed is the restriction of reading. In this world of male superiority, men must maintain an intellectual advantage over women, therefore they are restricted from reading. Offred displays the enjoyment of finally being able to spell again when she says, ”The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it.” (175) Women also experience the lack of choice in any decisions that are made about them. After the Commander asks for a kiss Offred states, “after a request like that there's always a next time, whether you say yes or no.” (175) Offred understands that even if she’s given the choice at the moment to kiss the Commander or not, if she says yes or no this will happen again. She is presented with a choice, but actually does not have one. Women in this society don’t have a choice in any decisions.

The novel is based off the idea of the handmaid, women who are used solely for reproductive purposes because of the declining population rate. The only valuable property they own is their womb, and this degrades women to the role of an object of sex. When Offred enters the Commander’s room, she expects him to physically advance, and this is evident when she says, “What does he want? But I won't give it away, this eagerness of mine. It's a bargaining session, things are about to be exchanged. She who does not hesitate is lost. I'm not giving anything away: selling only.” (173) Offred has accepted the fact that she must use her body as a bargaining chip and plans to take advantage of it. Offred’s understands that her life had only one purpose – to have sex with the Commander to give birth to a baby. Handmaids are restricted from doing anything but this.

Throughout the novel there are many scenes where Offred describes being judged by other women that were not handmaids. After many circumstances where handmaids have been subjected to social pressure and judgment, the repetition has engraved these opinions in their minds and caused them to believe and accept them as well. When describing the Commander, Offred says that he was looking at her “as if [she was] a kitten in a window. One he's looking at but doesn't intend to buy.” (173) Offred’s comparison of herself to a kitten implies the connation for kitten, a seductive woman. After multiple experiences of this, Offred has started to objectify herself as the insults she has heard being directed towards to her. The Commander does not even intend to do anything of the sort, but Offred immediately assumes it; this demonstrates the devastating experiences women need to succumb in this society. Secondly, during the game of Scrabble, Offred’s choice of words reaffirms her transformation under these experiences. She explains the words that she chooses: “Larynx, I spell. Valance. Quince. Zygote . . . Limp, I spell. Gorge.” (174-5) The majority of words relate to the common theme of sex. Her occupation as a handmaid has imbedded thoughts of sex into her own mind. The constant pressure of being a handmaid has transformed her own thoughts and beliefs.

Throughout these examples, Atwood is representing the social pressures and submissive characteristic that women face and are expected to have in the modern world. Women must fit a certain type of character presented to them in magazines, television and other medias. Women must be submissive to these “rules” if they want to be desired by men. Atwood displays these problems and also expresses the feelings of women who suffer this through the character of Offred.

More pages