Section 11: Night - Chapter thirty

Synopsis of chapter thirty

At night-time, Offred sits in her bedroom window and looks out over the garden. She sees Nick and senses her desire for him, not as a substitute for Luke, but as a different individual.

She remembers how she and Luke prepared to escape but someone must have noticed and given them away; the Eyes were waiting for them. The sense of betrayal is horrific. Offred realises that she is beginning to forget what Luke and their daughter looked like.

Offred decides to pray - not kneeling on the hard floor, as Aunt Lydia made the Handmaids do, but sitting on the window-seat. Offred creates her own version of the Lord's Prayer. She wonders whether she can bear to go on living.

Watch Section 11: Night - Chapter thirty

Accompanying teaching resources

Commentary on chapter thirty

like heat from a body ... red radiation, wavering upwards - Offred perceives the sense of fertile, sensuous life in the garden, suggesting its fecundity. (See also Imagery and symbolism > The garden.)

One and one and one and one doesn't equal four. Each one remains unique - Offred is keenly aware that, though the régime in Gilead would like to remove individuality, every person is in fact different, a unique person in his or her own right. (See also Themes and significant ideas > Individualism and identity.)

Context is all, or is it ripeness? - Offred has said before that ‘Context is all' - see chapters 24 and 29. ‘Ripeness is all' is a quotation from Act V scene ii of Shakespeare's play King Lear, where the phrase means, ‘The most important thing is to be ready for whatever happens to you - especially death.'

before you kill … You have to create an it - Dehumanising people makes it easier to destroy them. It is a lesson Offred recalls in chapter 44, when watching the Particicution - the man they kill ‘has become an it'. In Nazi Germany, for example, Jews and gypsies were called ‘Untermenschen' (i.e. sub-humans) which was part of the justification for genocide. (See also Social and political context > Political satire > Hitler and the Nazis.)

George OrwellThey force you to kill, within yourself – Similar to George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, where victims are faced with the thing they most fear in Room 101, whatever it is, and, in their terror, are willing to denounce their loved ones as long as they themselves are spared.

The Eyes of God run all over the earth - Here, the Eyes are Gilead's secret police from whom it is virtually impossible to hide. However, it is actually a quotation from Zechariah 4:10 - ‘the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth' - and has already been used by the Commander as a sign that prayer-time is finished (see end of chapter 15).

O God … thank you for not creating me a man - The Aunts make the Handmaids pray using words which reflect their function in Gilead, where they are to be self-denying vessels for impregnation. It is an ironic reversal of the Jewish prayer in which men thank God for ‘not having made me a woman'.

My God, who Art in the Kingdom of Heaven, which is within - from here to the end of the chapter is Offred's adaptation of the prayer known as the Lord's Prayer, to be found in Matthew 6:9-15 and Luke 11:2-4. Most familiar to Anglicans is the version printed in the Book of Common Prayer:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,
For ever and ever. Amen

I wish you would tell me Your Name, the real one I mean - Offred has had to give up her own name, but she knows her identity is important. So, in order to be able to communicate fully and have a relationship with God, she would like to know His real, intimate name - a name often seen as too holy to mention. In Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses that his name (as rendered in English translations) is ‘I AM'. This is often rendered in Hebrew as YHWH, sometimes anglicised to ‘Yahweh'.

I have enough daily bread ... The problem is getting it down without choking on it - When the Lord's Prayer says, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,' it may be taken both literally and metaphorically. For Offred, the problem is accepting and digesting what she has to survive on in Gilead - again, both literally and metaphorically.

Hell we can make for ourselves - Offred is aware that human beings can make the lives of themselves and others a hellish misery. (In her later dystopian novels Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, Atwood shows just how easily humans can ruin their environment and corrupt their societies.)

Adam and EveThe Fall was a fall from innocence to knowledge – This refers to the story of Adam and Eve, from the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The Fall is the term used to describe their change from a sinless state once they had disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. See Big ideas from the Bible > Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Second Adam

Deliver us from evil – By putting these words from the Lord's Prayer on a separate line, it is not clear whether here Offred means, ‘Don't let me think about suicide' or ‘Suicide would be the answer to my prayer asking for an escape from this evil situation.' Both might be in Offred's mind.

Then there's Kingdom, power and glory - although not found in the versions of the Lord's Prayer given in the New Testament, this doxology is found in the Book of Common Prayer and used in many Protestant churches.

All alone by the telephone - Offred quotes from the song All Alone by the song-writer Irving Berlin published in 1924.

Investigating chapter thirty

  • Compare the Lord's Prayer (above) and Offred's own version.
    • Why do you think Atwood chose to include this re-worked version of a well-known prayer?

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