The ‘facts'

Luke is - or was, as he may now be dead - Offred's husband. We know little about him - we never have a physical description, nor do we know what his job was - but we do know that he was married, began an affair with Offred, and then spent some time ‘in flight from his wife'. It took him two years to ‘pry himself loose' before divorcing and marrying Offred, with whom he had a daughter. Because Luke belongs to Offred's past, we never see him in what appears to be ‘present time', as we do many of the other characters, and indeed Offred has to remind herself not to think about him only in the past tense.

A symbol of intimacy

We do know that Offred loved Luke deeply. They had a passionate affair, meeting surreptitiously in a hotel room - the hotel which, ironically, later becomes ‘Jezebel's'. Offred misses Luke physically, and tells how, as she first lay on the bed in her room at the Commander's house, ‘I wanted to feel Luke lying beside me.' But their relationship was not merely sexual; they clearly enjoyed each other's company, and Offred felt valued by Luke. After the Ceremony, when she has felt that she is merely a body to be inseminated, she yearns (chapter 17) for their tender relationship:

‘I want Luke here so badly. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not.'

Elsewhere she remembers lying in bed with him, lazily reading the papers on a Sunday morning (chapter 8), and feeling his hand stroking her pregnant belly (chapter 18). They rarely argued, but their disputes were a sign of their companionship, which Offred now realises she greatly valued; she would like to be able to have an argument ‘about who should put the dishes in the dishwasher, whose turn it is to sort the laundry'. They also used to watch late-night television together, and Luke would laugh at the sentimental behaviour and hysteria of a particular gospel singer - who is now Serena Joy and, Offred feels, not funny at all.

A symbol of protection

Luke seems to be competent, calmer than Offred, and a realist. He warns Offred, when her mother disappears in Gilead's first swoops on those they regard as anti-social, that there is no point in going to the police. He is the one who organises their escape and encourages Offred when she is ‘white as a sheet'. He ‘squeezes her hand' and takes them easily through the first checkpoint (chapter 14), then singing as they drive on. The night before, he had comforted her, putting his arms round her, before telling her that he has to kill their pet cat - a necessary but clearly upsetting task which he takes upon himself.

Male / female equality

Their relationship was one of equals. Luke does not see the necessity of strident feminism, gently teasing Offred's mother about her views as he does the cooking. But once Gilead stops women working and having bank accounts, Offred fears that a subtle change may have entered their relationship (chapter 28): 

‘something had shifted, some balance. ..We are not each other's, any more. Instead, I am his.'

Nevertheless, it is the intensity of their love which Offred remembers.

Luke's fate?

Offred is wretched not to know what has happened to Luke. In chapter 18 she gives us three possible versions:

  • He may have been shot dead during their escape attempt, and she prays that his death was quick
  • He may have been captured and is now rotting in prison, tortured and starving
  • He may have escaped, found his way out of Gilead through a resistance movement, and be trying to contact her, to organise her escape too.

She has no idea which one of these three possible scenarios is the true one; neither does the reader.

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