Section 4: Waiting room - Chapter ten

Synopsis of chapter ten

Still in her room, Offred thinks about songs she sings - nowadays silently, in her head, as they are not allowed. The weather is getting hotter and she is uncomfortable. She remembers the Red Centre where Aunt Lydia used to comment on the way, in previous times, women exposed their bodies, sunbathing, and had casual sexual encounters in public.

Offred remembers her time at university and how outrageous and funny Moira was. Offred thinks about her own attitude to the morality of those times, and how she both accepted some aspects of life without really thinking about them and ignored others.

She hears the engine of the Commander's car starting up, and goes to the window seat, on which there is a small cushion embroidered with the word ‘FAITH'. She looks down at Nick and the Commander, and tries to analyse what she feels for the Commander, deciding that it is not simply hatred.

Commentary on chapter ten

John NewtonAmazing grace - A hymn written by the eighteenth century cleric John Newton. It is ironic that even a hymn is banned in Gilead if it contains the word ‘free'. Freedom would have been a particularly poignant concept for Newton as he was a slave trader before his conversion to Christianity.

I feel so lonely - These words are from a song, Heartbreak Hotel, made popular by Elvis Presley in 1956. In view of Offred's sad memories in chapter 9 about the hotel she stayed in with Luke, this may have a particular poignancy. It is ironic that Gilead bans both hymns and popular songs. The banning of music by fundamentalist groups is a recent phenomenon, as with, for example, the Taliban in Afghanistan. (See Social and political context.)

we'll be allowed to change - Even the choice of clothing is denied to the Handmaids. As with small children, their uniform is decided for them.

The spectacles women used to make of themselves ... Things - Another instance of ‘freedom to and freedom from'. However, Aunt Lydia's idea of moral choice here is undermined by Offred's view of her as ‘a dead rodent'.

an underwhore party – Moira's pun on ‘underwear party' simultaneously suggests Moira's lively, unconforming attitude and the moral laxity of the time before Gilead, also evident in Moira's reference to Pornomarts. It also foreshadows Moira's own future clothing, as a prostitute at Jezebel's

Pornomarts - This portmanteau word suggests to the reader that pornography was as readily available in the time pre-Gilead as any other commodity available in e.g. a supermarket. (See also Social and political context > Social satire.)

We lived, as usual, by ignoring - Atwood raises another moral dilemma: how far are we responsible for immorality in our society if we choose to ignore it?

stories in the newspapers … not the dimension of our lives - Another example of the ‘freedom to and freedom from' pointed out by Aunt Lydia in chapter 5.

a hard little cushion … FAITH - Presumably this would once have been one of three, with the other two being HOPE and CHARITY. This alludes to a famous phrase from the Bible about the importance of faith, hope and love (charity in older translations) in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Hope and charity (from the Latin, ‘caritas', ‘love') are missing from the world in which Offred finds herself. ‘Faith...has been overlooked' - this suggests to the reader that the rulers of Gilead expect their citizens to have religious faith but have exterminated love and hope from human life. Offred shows us that love and hope are the two qualities which keep her humanity and individuality alive. (See also Themes and significant ideas > Human relationships.)

The one before this was bald - This comment reminds us that Offred has had previous, unsuccessful, postings. If she does not have a child by the current Commander, she will be sent to the Colonies or executed.

Throw something - The idea of throwing something reminds Offred of her time in college with the irrepressible Moira.

I ought to feel hatred … more complicated than that - Through Offred, Atwood shows us the problem of defining our complicated feelings.

Investigating chapter ten

  • Read chapter 13 of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where he describes the nature of selfless love (‘charity' in older versions of the Bible) > 1 Corinthians 13 at
    • Paul indicates all the ways in which, in his opinion, real love should be selfless. Do you think that Atwood uses his vision as her ideal?

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