Section 12: Jezebel's - Chapter thirty-three

Synopsis of chapter thirty-three

Offred and Ofglen walk to a women's meeting - a Prayvaganza. They kneel down in an area reserved for Handmaidens, from where they can see others come in. Janine (Ofwarren) arrives looking unwell, and with a new partner. Ofglen tells Offred that Janine has been moved to a new place; her baby was, after all, a ‘shredder', an imperfect child.

Offred remembers an incident at the Red Centre where Janine seemed to be in a trance, and spoke as if she was still a waitress. Moira slapped her face to bring her round before the Aunts saw her.

Commentary on chapter thirty-three

Mass weddingThe Prayvaganza - This portmanteau word derives from prayer and ‘extravaganza', suggesting that there will be an elaborate ceremony based on prayer. In the next chapter we discover that it is in fact a mass wedding, such as those arranged in the late twentieth century by ‘Moonie' leader Sun Myung Moon, in which thousands of couples were married. (See Religious and philosophical context.)

The building's former name, some dead President they shot - Both Abraham Lincoln (assassinated in 1865) and John Kennedy (assassinated in 1963) have had public buildings, including University buildings, named after them.

God is a National Resource - This slogan seems to suggest that God is on the side of Gilead, and indeed is virtually controlled by the régime.

kneeling … on the cement floor - The physical position which the Handmaids have to adopt reinforces their subservient situation in Gilead's hierarchy.

Janine … had an eighth-month miscarriage – We discover that Janine has already failed to carry a baby to term. The fact that the next, much-wanted baby, which at first gave Janine some status as Ofwarren, was imperfect has instead only emphasised her repeated failure to produce a healthy child as required.

I'm your waitperson - in her trance-like state (whether real or assumed), Janine reverts to her role as a waitress - or ‘waitperson' as she was known in the politically correct post-feminist world just before the new régime seized power in Gilead.

They won't mess around with trying to cure you - Moira is fierce in order to save Janine. Whether Janine's mental state is real or assumed, it could lead to her execution - there is no tenderness in Gilead.

Investigating chapter thirty-three

  • The main theme of John Wyndham's 1955 novel The Chrysalids is that chemical and other disasters lead to the birth of malformed babies, and that this is seen as a punishment from God. As in The Handmaid's Tale, he describes an imaginary American society with fundamentalist Christian views in which individuals who do not conform to the idea of genetic perfection are killed or banished to ‘the Fringes'.
    • Read Wyndham's novel to look at how another science fiction writer treats one of Atwood's central themes, or use the internet to read a synopsis of The Chrysalids.

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