Section 4: Waiting room - Chapter nine

Synopsis of chapter nine

Back in her room, Offred thinks about previous rooms she has known, including hotel rooms where she and Luke met while he was in the process of leaving his wife, before their divorce and his subsequent marriage to the woman who is now Offred.

Offred explores her room carefully, and in the bottom of the wardrobe she finds scratched the words ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum'. She does not understand them, but is pleased to find a message from a previous occupant.

She asks Rita about the woman who used the room before. Rita's reply, ‘Which one?' indicates to Offred that there have been several. Offred is aware that for some reason the others have been removed.

Commentary on chapter nine

trying not to tell stories - Offred puns on ‘tell stories' as in ‘to tell lies', and ‘tell stories' as in ‘relate a narrative'. At first glance her sentence means, ‘I am trying to tell the truth,' but there is an additional meaning of ‘I wish I were not involved in this situation.' Atwood's use of the pun here reminds us that Offred's story is a construct - in more than one sense. (See Structure and methods of narration.)

Someone like me - Again there is a suggestion of the double. A previous Offred would have had the same name and costume - but would also, so the current Offred believes, have been ‘like her' in preserving her individuality and rebelliousness in small, hidden ways. (See Themes and significant ideas > Doubling and Individualism and identity.)

Luke … his wife - For the first time we discover that Offred and Luke had an affair before he divorced and re-married. The irregularity of this, in the eyes of Gilead, makes them particularly vulnerable to having their child removed.

Men and women tried each other on, casually - Atwood makes her readers think about moral implications. The ‘freedom to' indulge in casual sex is set against the ‘freedom from' the ‘fear' that he might see it as ‘just an affair'. (See Social and political context > Social satire)

Postcards ... an impossible thing now - Freedom to communicate and freedom of language are repressed and strictly controlled in Gilead - as they have been in many régimes. (See Social / political context > Social satire.)

stains ... evidence of love … touch - The importance of the ability to touch, to exchange physical human warmth, is something which Atwood stresses throughout the novel. In the very first chapter the women ‘touch each other's hands across space' in the dark, in order to ‘exchange' human feeling. (c.f. also chapter 2: ‘I hunger to commit the act of touch.') (See also Themes and significant ideas > Human relationships.)

overlooked the hooks - Offred is aware that all other methods of committing suicide have been carefully removed.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum - Based on Latin, and meaning, ‘Don't let the bastards grind you down.' It is an encouragement from a previous Offred to a future one to retain her spirit and her individuality.

a message … in writing, forbidden - As in other dystopias, such as Orwell's 1984, language and written communication are strictly controlled by the state. (See also Social and political context > Social satire.)

I turn her into Moira - Offred imagines that the unknown writer of the message is like her friend Moira, who becomes an important symbol of individuality and rebellion in the novel. (See Characterisation > Moira.)

more than one - As the narrator, and the reader, realise that she is at the very least the third Offred, the implications strike her, and us: if they ‘didn't work out', as Rita says, what happened to them?

Investigating chapter nine

  • In this chapter we learn another crucial fact about Luke. Look back over the previous chapters and start to make a record of:
    • Any information Atwood lets Offred reveal about Luke
    • The chapter when Atwood reveals it.
  • In the light of what you discover, start to think about Atwood's methods of structuring her narrative and her use of suspense.

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