Section 8: Birth Day - Chapter twenty-one

Synopsis of chapter twenty-one

Ofwarren's labour continues, as the other Handmaids chant to assist her breathing pattern. Offred manages to exchange a few words with the Handmaid next to her, asking about Moira, but does not learn anything about her friend.

Commander Warren's wife is brought in and placed on the top seat of the birthing stool, behind Ofwarren, who finally gives birth to a baby girl. Offred remembers Luke's joy when she gave birth to their daughter.

The Wife is put to bed, holding the baby, as if she has just given birth, whilst the other Handmaids gather round Ofwarren. The other Commanders' Wives come in, congratulating the Wife, who says the baby is to be called Angela.

Commentary on chapter twenty-one

Too loud for me - Although Offred is communicating with ‘us' (though the Historical Notes make the identity of her audience problematic) she is not supposed to talk to anyone else in Gilead except when absolutely necessary.

‘Moira,' I say - Moira represents for Offred everything that is the antithesis of Gilead, and hence is an essential part of Offred's hope that there may be some escape from its oppression. (See Characterisation > Moira.)

my name - Offred's sense of her real identity is very strong, and has not been wiped out by the name the system has given her.

The Commander's Wife... behind and above Janine - Even in birth, the system of the Wife holding the Handmaid is enforced.

A girl, poor thing … wonder - In the patriarchal state of Gilead, girls are of secondary importance, even though they are needed to give birth to the next generation. In contrast, Luke was ecstatic when their daughter was born.

‘Angela' - Names are seen as highly significant. This baby is given a name which suggests she is an angel - a messenger from God - though she has been created by the same sort of impersonal Ceremony we witnessed Offred undergoing in chapter 16.

a woman's culture … It isn't what you meant - Offred's mother has fought for a society where women are recognised. Ironically, what has emerged in Gilead is a society where women are recognised as having special, but very limited, functions. (See Religious / philosophical context > Feminism and The Handmaid's Tale.)

Investigating chapter twenty-one

  • Offred is extremely sensitive to smell, as we have seen before (e.g. chapters 5, 8 and 12). The second paragraph of this chapter focusses vividly on smells:
    • Find two other examples of her response to smell in this chapter.

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