Structuralism Lens - Edward Tse

Male vs female: The assumption of male dominance over females is typical of society. In this situation, the male is the one who demands of what he wants from the female. Even though females have a place in society, they are fundamentally treated differently and serve different functions compared to men. This places some sort of order between people. Offred reflects upon her feminine role in the following passage: “What, then? 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.”(P.173, B&R Version)

Right vs Wrong: There are strict rules attached to each person about what they can and cannot do; where they can go and where they can’t. The simple act of entering a Commander’s room, a place that all handmaids are strictly forbidden to enter, is especially daunting to the Handmaid Offred. Even though she was directly told by the commander to enter this forbidden room, thus allowing her the right to enter, Offred was still very wary about the consequences that would arise if anybody else found out about what she has done. Furthermore, when the Commander said to her “’Thank You,’ he says. ‘For the Game.’ Then He says, ‘I want you to kiss me.’” (P.175, B&R Version), she had to comply, even though it was against her intentions. The distinction between what is wrong thus becomes blurred. This can be thought of as a stance on trying to obey authority while also following one’s moral ethics.

Societal Class: Both the commander and the handmaid both pertain to two very different classes. Offred is a handmaid, as she has been deemed to be infertile. As such, she is a personal servant and is nothing less than property to the Commandeer. The Commander, on the other hand, exerts almost all power over Offred. He is the one who gets a nice office, full of materials that would be forbidden to almost everyone else. All of this is very luxurious to Offred. As a handmaid exerts no authority, she has to do what she is told, even if it is forbidden under the authoritarian regime. In the passage, she engages in the act of playing an intellectual game called Scrabble and is forced to present an act of love to her Commander, known to us as kissing. Her thoughts towards this injustice included “Now of “course it’s something different. Now it’s forbidden, for us. Now it’s dangerous….It’s as if he’s offered me drugs” (P.174, B&R Version) and “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.” (P.175 - 176, B&R Version)

Happiness vs Madness/ Sadness: The acts they both parties perform and the rules that they are breaking present the sides of happiness and madness/sadness between both characters. On one hand, Offred the Handmaid is angrily sad that she is knows that what she is getting herself into is highly forbidden. She is especially mad when the Commander told her to kiss him, bringing to the point that she said that she would kill him when she receives such a request again. (Ref. P.175 - 176, B&R Version) However, she did seem somewhat content when she got to play games of Scrabble and even beat him in a round. (Ref. P.175, B&R Version) The Commander was happy to seek someone who would accompany him in whatever he wanted and present devotion towards him. He got what he wanted, so he was happy on that end. However, he was so sad for reasons of being not loving his third marriage and is beginning to place himself in a messy situation, yet again. As Offred simply puts it at the end of the passage, “He was so sad.” (P.176, B&R Version)

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