In this passage, I have found many binary opposites. The first obvious one being the binary opposite:male vs. female. The Commander and Offred play Scrabble together in his study. The Commander has power over Offred. Offred must obey the Commander or she risks getting reported; however even if she refuses to obey him she could still get reported. Either way, Offred could end up in serious trouble. Offred is powerless and put in a vulnerable position.
The scrabble game serves as a symbol of the Commander’s power. His possession of a forbidden item means that he is above the rules. The reader is constantly reminded that the Commander is in charge and the authoritative figure.
Offred uses the scrabble game to distract herself from the harsh reality of her life and her powerlessness. As Offred plays the game she feels in control, she feels that she finally has power over something. She controls the letters she uses for each word she puts down and she even lets the commander win. “This is freedom, an eyeblink of it.” (Atwood,175 B+R edition)
When the game is finished, she is reminded that the Commander is in charge because he tells her to “go home” and to kiss him, “I want you to kiss me” (175 B+R edition) He does not ask her politely he tells her and she obeys his orders quickly and quietly. The truth that is understood by this binary opposite is that females are powerless and men hold the power.
Past vs. Present
Offred dreams of the past making the present seem unbearable. This helps the reader understand the setting and how painful it is for Offred. She tells the story in present tense but she often switches to past tense for flashbacks. She remembers her old life indicating to the reader that the new regime is fairly recent and that she is quite unhappy to be separated from those she new back then. Her flashbacks emphasize that the freedom she once had is now all gone. She remembers when the old women and old men would play scrabble and how common it used to be. Now it is indecent and she realizes how much she took for granted in her old life. Now she describes the game as a “luxury” (175 B+R edition). These flashbacks show a sharp contrast between present life in Gilead and the times before. The past is constantly present in her thoughts.
She was happier in her old life which leads us to the third binary opposite:Happiness vs. Unhappiness
Offred and the Commander did not know what happiness was until the new regime took over. Now they find it hard to find happiness and thus partake in forbidden activities like playing Scrabble. Offred is happy to do something wrong and indecent but she is also unhappy at the same time. She enjoys the power she has over the game and the freedom of expression. “I holdthe 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.”(175 B+R edition).Later, she thinks about killing the Commander; once again she wants to feel powerful and in control.
The Commander is also unhappy. He cannot play Scrabble with anyone, not even his wife. He longs for companionship and thus forces Offred to play a game of Scrabble with him.
The next binary opposite I found is:Young vs. Old
In this passage, Offred talks about the way life was before the new regime, “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.” (174 B+R edition).We realize that Offred is old enough to remember the way men used to act in the days before. “And he does look embarrassed, sheepish was the word, the way men used to look once. He’s old enough to remember how to look that way, and to remember also how appealing women once found it.” (173 B+R edition ).This reveals the truth that the commander is old but that she too is old- old enough to remember when men smiled sheepishly. She gives us an indication of her age as well as the Commander’s age. They are old enough to remember another time.
What is said vs. What is not said
The fact that Offred does not say the things she is thinking shows how much power the Commander has over her. She wants to say “Yes? Yes, yes? What then? What does he want? But I won’t give away, this eagerness of mine.” This shows how much control Offred has over her emotions and the fact that she has trained herself to appear a certain way to the Commander. “I hold myself absolutely rigid. I keep my face unmoving.” (174 B+R edition). Offred is very curious but she does not ask the Commander any questions. She does not show any emotions or change her expression because freedom of expression is forbidden.
Bad vs. Good
Offred is partaking in something forbidden but despite the fact that she knows the repercussion she chooses to do it anyway. She feels good doing something bad. This shows that Offred has a rebellious side. “Now it’s forbidden, for us. Now it’s dangerous. Now it’s indecent. Now it’s something her can’t do with his Wife. Now it’s desirable. Now he’s compromised himself. It’s as if he’s offered me drugs.” (174 B+R edition) This reveals the truth that the things the Republic of Gilead has forbidden are in fact the things that make people feel good.
My next binary opposite is quite similar to that of above:Restriction/Confinement vs. Freedom
She wants to play scrabble with the Commander because it is something forbidden. She knows that it is against the rules but it is also incredibly appealing to her. She recalls the old times when playing Scrabble was normal. Handmaids are restricted from things that used to be normal. Offred takes pleasure in playing scrabble but she is not allowed to show how happy it makes her. “I want to laugh, shriek with laughter, fall off my chair.” (173 B+R edition).
Another reason why herencounter is forbidden is because the Handmaids are not supposed to be with their Commanders alone. The Commander is not supposed to enjoy being in the company of his Handmaid. She is not supposed to threaten the relationship between the Commander and his Wife. Offred is asked to play this forbidden game of Scrabble but she is only allowed to break the rules under the Commander’s careful watch. He still has power over her and tells her when she must leave and go back “home”.
Intelligence vs. Stupidity
“I win the first game, I let him win the second.” (175 B+R edition). Offred is much smarter than the Commander and the reader knows this because she uses intelligent words like larynx and zygote. In addition to this she is smart enough to know that she should let the Commander win the second game. She knows her place and does not want to take advantage of him.