Section 9: Night - Chapter twenty-four

Synopsis of chapter twenty-four

Offred goes back to her room, where she thinks about what has happened. She is not sure what use she can make of the Commander's having asked her to share illicit activities. She thinks about how the abnormal context makes people behave differently, and recalls seeing a film about the mistress of a prominent Nazi, interviewed years later, who could not accept that he was a monster. The ludicrousness of what has happened in the Commander's study suddenly hits her, and she has to stifle her laughter by lying on the floor with her head in the wardrobe.

Commentary on chapter twenty-four

perspective ... Context is all - By placing these ‘events' at a considerable historical distance in the section ‘Historical Notes', Atwood allows us a wider perspective, and asks us to consider how perspectives may change and how ‘context is all' when we are assessing what is ‘normal'.

thirty-three … brown hair … five feet seven - Although these are absolutely minimal descriptive features, they are all we know about Offred. They do not, however, allow us to picture her clearly. (Compare e.g. Dickens' first-person novel Great Expectations, where we have intimate knowledge of Pip's feelings but never any idea about his appearance.)

I can ask for something - Offred is aware that there has been a tiny shift of power in her favour, and she needs to consider what use, if any, she should try to make of it.

mistress of a man who had supervised one of the camps - Atwood is Amon Goethprobably referring to Ruth Kalder, the mistress of Amon Goeth, Commandant of the Plaszow Concentration Camp. She remained loyal to him until she died, and always had a photograph of him in her room. In an interview in 1983, she described Goeth as charming and said that she never regretted being his mistress. However, Kalder committed suicide the day after the interview.

To invent a humanity - At the end of the novel, in Historical Notes, Pieixoto says that society in Gilead was ‘subject to factors from which we ourselves are happily more free. Our job is not to censure but to understand.' In this chapter's reference to Nazi atrocities, Atwood asks us to consider how far, if at all, we should accept this attitude.

how could she have kept on living? - Offred is well aware of the human capacity for self-deception.

laughter - Laughter is a very powerful force, like the ‘boiling.. lava' to which Offred compares it; but it is a rare, indeed unknown, capacity in Gilead. Offred's laughter, though, and her ability to see the ludicrousness of the situation with the Commander, are qualities which make her a survivor. (See Characterisation > Offred.)

the sound of my own heart, ... opening - The fact that the chapter, and the section, ends on the word ‘opening' perhaps suggests that there may be ways in which Offred's restricted life could start to expand.

Investigating chapter twenty-four

  • Amon Goeth features in the story of Plaszow camp, near Krakow, re-told in the Booker Prize-winning novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally (published in 1982, and made into the film Schindler's List).
    • Investigate the book or film to find out more.
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