Section 12: Jezebel's - Chapter thirty-five

Synopsis of chapter thirty-five

Offred is back in her room. She remembers the day that she, Luke and their child tried to cross the border with false passports, which were spotted, so they tried – unsuccessfully – to escape.

Offred then thinks about the Commander's cynical comments about love and its importance in young women's lives pre-Gilead.

Serena Joy knocks and enters with a photograph of Offred's child which she can look at briefly. She is now three years older than when Offred last saw her, and wearing a white dress. Offred feels distraught to sense from the picture that the little girl seems quite contented, as if she has forgotten her mother.

Commentary on chapter thirty-five

An invalid … no valid passport – Offred pun on the two meanings of ‘invalid': the noun, meaning ‘someone who is unwell', and the adjective, meaning ‘not legally acceptable'.

That was what happened, the day we tried to cross at the border – The word ‘passport' brings to Offred's mind the terrible day when they tried to escape.

I don't want to be telling this story – This comment, together with the comment later in this chapter ‘You'll have to forgive me', reminds us that the Handmaid is telling a tale – it is a construct – and also makes us ask, ‘Who is the ‘you' she is talking to?' This point becomes especially significant we reach the final section, ‘Historical Notes'.

Why fight? ... That will never do - Offred realises that to become passive is the worst thing one can do: it will mean that the regime has won.

Love? said the Commander – Offred moves her mind back to the conversation with the Commander which she recalled in chapter 34.

God is love, they said once – ‘They' could be people of various religious faiths, but the phrase is particularly well known from the Bible – for example from 1 John 4:8:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. TNIV

When Offred says ‘We reversed it', she means that, when she was a younger women, people like her made a god of the idea of love, and of finding the ‘right man'.

The incarnation. That word, made flesh – Offred is again referring to the idea of ‘the right man' coming along, but she links this to her comment about God earlier in the paragraph, using Christian terminology to explain her ideas. According to the Bible, God came into the world in human flesh – an event known as ‘the incarnation'. In John's Gospel (John 1:27), God is ‘The Word' which ‘became flesh and dwelt among us.'

as if we were free to shape and reshape … our lives – Offred thinks about the nature of freedom and the significance of having choices – aspects of life which she took  for granted.

Is, I say. Is, is - As in chapter 6, Offred reminds herself that she must keep hoping that Luke is alive, and not refer to him in the past tense as if he were dead.

I am a blank here, between parentheses – ‘Parentheses' are brackets; Offred feels as though she is sidelined in this existence – an idea Atwood plays with in her poem This is a photograph of me where she also uses brackets to suggest the marginalising of the woman narrator.

Investigating chapter thirty-five

  • From a poetry anthology or using the internet, read Atwood's poem This is a photograph of me
    • Relate its ideas to Offred's comments about her sense of being ‘obliterated'.

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