Section 3: Night - Chapter seven

Synopsis of chapter seven

At night, Offred thinks about herself and her situation. She remembers Moira, whom she knew at University. She also remembers her childhood, when her mother, an ardent feminist, took her to a session in a park where pornographic magazines were being burnt. Then she recalls the horror of realising that her own child has been taken away and given to someone else.

Offred wishes this were just a story she is telling. She reflects on the fact that a story-teller expects an audience.

Commentary on chapter seven

Lie...lay.. I don't really know what men used to say. I had only their words for it - Atwood uses puns to make the point that language is highly significant. The phrase ‘only their word for it' becomes ‘their words for it', which suggests that language has usually been male-oriented.Mephastophilis

This is time, nor am I out of it - Offred plays with a quotation from Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus, in which the devil Mephistopheles, asked how he has managed to escape from Hell to reach Faustus' room, replies, ‘Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it.'

Moira ... yellow-ended fingers - The description of Moira immediately suggests that she is a resolutely unconventional young woman.

Date rape.. date rapé - Offred puns on the unpleasant idea of date rape, suggesting instead ‘fruit (date) which has been grated (rapé) '. Moira's ironic ‘Ha ha' suggests that she is not amused to have the serious issue treated so lightly. Date rape might well result from the ‘freedom to' that has now become ‘freedom from' (see chapter 4).

women burning books - The reaction against pornography, which degrades women, was a central issue of the feminist movement in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and is still an issue today. Atwood (a Canadian writer) would be well aware of the radical American feminist movement called Women Against Pornography (WAP) which was especially influential in the 1980s. (The Handmaid's Tale was published in 1985.) (See Social and political context > Social satire.)

She's in good hands - We realise that Offred's daughter has been taken away from her, to be adopted by another (childless) family. The forcible removal of children from parents whom the regime thinks are ‘unfit' has happened under many governments - for example, under Hitler in Nazi Germany, or in China at the time of the Cultural Revolution, where children of ‘undesirable' parents were sent away to be adopted by ‘acceptable' couples. (See Social / political context.)

I would like to believe … telling it to someone - At first reading Atwood appears to be letting Offred tell us that what she is saying is true. But then we are also told that all Offred says is ‘a story' as she is reconstructing her memories. Later (in the final chapter called Historical Notes) Atwood challenges much further our preconceptions about stories as constructs, and about the interpretations of the reader. (See also Structure and methods of narration.) It is also interesting to see what Atwood has to say in Negotiating With the Dead - a book of critical essays based on a series of lectures she gave in Cambridge - about the role and motivations of writers.

Investigating chapter seven

  • Use the web to look up further information about the growth of the feminist movement in America in the 1970-80s.
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