Marxism - James

This passage from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale represents the first time Offred and the Commander interact alone. It develops plot and more importantly, provides insight to some of the shortcomings of our current society. It does this in two ways. Firstly, it shows the inefficiency of the date as both characters end up making compromises that they would not have otherwise made. Secondly, it comments on interactions between different classes and reveals the hate for the bourgeoisie that is ingrained in the lower classes.
This passage is developed to have many parallels with a date, despite the state of society in the novel. Offred sees these parallels, and bluntly comments on them saying “This is like being on a date. This is like sneaking into the dorm after hours” (P175). The Commander’s nervousness also plays a role in making this passage seem like a date. His nervousness is apparent in the following quote.

“‘I want…’ he says.

I try not to lean forward. Yes? Yes yes? What, then? What does he want? […]

‘I would like – he says. “This will sound silly.’ And he does look embarrassed,sheepishwas the word, the way men used to look once. […]

‘I’d like you to play a game of Scrabble with me,
’ he says”(P173-74)

The Commander is obviously nervous as it takes him three attempts to ask her to play scrabble, and he uses a different approach each time, showing his lack of confidence. This nervousness makes The Commander sound like a potential date as opposed to being her superior, as if the latter was the case he would have reason to be anxious. There is also some imagery that suits a date at the end of the passage, when The Commander tells her it’s time to “go home” (P175) and asks her if “[she] will be all right” (175). Both of these statements make reference to the time before The Republic of Gilead. They are also both flawed, as Offred is not going home, but rather to her room and the hallway is in no way dangerous. Atwood is trying to create the atmosphere of a date with these words, even though they make no sense in The Republic of Gilead.

The majority of the ‘date’ consists of them playing scrabble. Offred lets The Commander win one of the games, saying “I win the first game, I let him win the second” (P175). We find out later that The Commander actually let Offred win the first game.This comments on our society. During the majority of the date, the goal was to be entertained by playing scrabble. But the result was that both participants sacrificed one of the games in order to be polite and to not threaten the other. The end result was that they never really played each other, as both games involved a participant who was not trying. It would have been much more enjoyable if both Offered and The Commander had been trying for both games. This shows a flaw in our current society, as literature always reflects upon the society of the author. It shows that currently when dating we are so focused on politeness and other people’s goals that we lose sight of our own, and we compromise our own experience needlessly for others. The passage does not offer advice on how to fix this, but acts to undermine the status quo by exposing a flaw in our social system.
This passage also shows an interpretation of the interactions between the classes. Offred is of a much lower class than The Commander. She is a women, valued only for her fertility and nothing else, whereas The Commander is important enough to have a handmade assigned to him. Their dealings represent a rare interaction between different classes, and it resembles an exchange more than anything else. Offred comments on this from the start saying:
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(P173).

This exchange ends up being two games of scrabble for a kiss. But in the end the Commander does not get his end of the exchange, as he is dissatisfied with the kiss because she had not “meant it” (P176). This shows that the author believes that interactions between the lower class and the bourgeoisie (upper class) will be in the form of a formal and forced exchange, where both sides are not rewarded equally.
Additionally, this passage provides insight to the lower classes inner attitude towards the upper class. This can be seen when Offred fantasizes about the murder of her commander.
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” (P175-176)

This quote shows the main conflict between the classes in this passage. Her fantasy clearly shows the lower classes tendency to rise up against the bourgeoisie as a result of being oppressed, a trend that can be observed throughout history and that, based on the author, is still a possibility now.

In conclusion, this passage reflects on our current society by showing a social flaw in dating and by showing the tension in interactions between the upper and lower classes.

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