Section 14: Salvaging - Chapter forty-one

Synopsis of chapter forty-one

Offred thinks about her relationship with Nick. Instead of just going to his room once, she now slips out regularly at night to make love with Nick. She thinks she may be expecting his child. Meanwhile, Ofglen keeps urging her to spy on the Commander and to search his study at night. However, because of Nick, Offred now feels she no longer wishes to have anything to do with the resistance group or to escape.

Commentary on chapter forty-one

Salvaging -

  • In the Philippines ‘salvaging' has come to mean ‘extra-judicial execution' - i.e. execution by a public officer without trial - a complete reversal of the normal implications of the meaning of ‘salvaging'.
  • Note how the dreadful ‘salvaging' is juxtaposed with Offred's tenderness for Nick, suggesting the fragility of such feeling in the horrors of Gilead.

in fragments ... this limping and mutilated story - Yet another reminder of the structure of Offred's story, which the Historical Notes will reveal to be even more arbitrary. Offred's next comment - ‘But there is nothing I can do to change it' - is ironic, as it is:

  • True that, since she is part of Atwood's construction, Offred has no independent existence
  • False, since Atwood herself has complete freedom to change any aspect of the story which she chooses. (See also Structure and methods of narration.)

Flowers - The significance of the garden, and especially the tulips, has been evident throughout the novel. See Imagery and symbolism > The garden.

Because I'm telling you this story I will your existence - Atwood makes us aware of the subtle relationship between writer and reader (which she discusses further in her book of essays, Negotiating with the Dead.) Ironically, just as we, the unknown reader, exist only in Offred's imagination, so she exists only in ours.

DescartesI tell, therefore you are - Offred puns on the words of the seventeenth-century French philosopher, Descartes, who, in his consideration of the nature of existence, concluded that he must exist if he could be thinking about it: ‘Je pense, donc je suis:' - ‘I think, therefore I am.'

So I will myself to go on – A pun underlining the effort Offred feels is necessary to continue her story into a section where ‘I did not behave well'.

includes the truth - Only part of what Offred tells us may be ‘the truth' - which she has already suggested is impossible to relate accurately. We have no idea which part of her narrative she defines as ‘the truth'.

I told you it was bad - Offred reveals that she wants Nick, and is aware of her personal delight that he continues to respond to her. Whether or not we would consider this ‘bad' is another matter.

I want to … memorize him ... I ought to have done that with Luke - Offred makes us realise the fragility of present happiness, and that we should never take a relationship of love for granted.

And how have I come to trust him … foolhardy in itself? - Trust is usually held to be essential in any successful relationship. One of the worst effects of any totalitarian régime is that it destroys trust between people. In Nazi Germany, and in China during the Cultural Revolution for example - but also in many other instances – family members have been encouraged to betray each other. (See also Social and political context > Political satire > Hitler and the Nazis or China and the Cultural Revolution.)

I tell him my real name and feel that therefore I am known - Names are a very significant part of identity. In Gilead, ‘Offred' has her identity reduced to her Commander's name and the number on her tattoo. In sharing her name with Nick (though not with us), she feels more of a real person. (For a suggestion as to her real name, see the Commentary on chapter 1. See also Themes and significant ideas > Individualism and identity.)

Impossible to think that anyone for whom I feel such gratitude could betray me – It may be impossible to think of betrayal, but it is not impossible for it to happen. We do not know, by the end of the novel, whether Nick had betrayed Offred or helped her to escape.

It's happened, I say... This I know is wishful thinking - Another element of the story which Atwood leaves open-ended. We never learn whether or not Offred has become pregnant.

I no longer want to … cross the border to freedom - As Offred said earlier, in chapter 24, ‘context is all'; the concept of freedom depends on one's circumstances.

Investigating chapter forty-one

  • Read Atwood's book, Negotiating with the Dead
    • Make notes on her thoughts about the complex and fascinating relationship between writer and reader.
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