Section 12: Jezebel's - Chapter thirty-nine

Synopsis of chapter thirty-nine

The Commander takes Offred up to one of the bedrooms in the former hotel which she recognises from her previous visits with Luke. Offred goes into the bathroom and recalls Moira saying that she saw Offred's mother in a film about life in the Colonies.

Offred goes and lies on the bed alongside the Commander, but she cannot summon up even a pretence of enthusiasm for having sex with him.

Commentary on chapter thirty-nine

The drapes are the same ... All is the same – Offred's comment is both ironic and untrue: only the outside trappings are the same. There is a terrible difference, as once Offred came here with the man she loved, to share that love in mutual passion. Now she is merely being used by the Commander, and she feels nothing for him, except perhaps pity.

I saw your mother - This is a flashback to Offred's meeting with Moira in the ‘ladies' room' at Jezebel's, where Moira has told Offred about the film she was shown about life in the Colonies.

dead ... She might as well be. You should wish it for her - From what she has learnt form the film she was shown, Moira is only too well aware that existence in the Colonies is so hideous that death would be preferable.

As if I were the mother and she were the child - The relationships between mothers and children are examined in some detail in the novel, especially focussing on Offred's relationship with both her mother and her daughter. See Themes and significant ideas > Mothers and children.

Just don't - Luke knows that there is no point in calling in the police, since it is the security forces who will have searched and wrecked Offred's mother's house. He realises that it is pointless for Offred to attract the attention of the police to herself when she can do nothing to help her mother.

She will think of something … mothers - Another comment on the importance of the relationship between children and mothers. See Themes and significant ideas > Mothers and children.

Serena wants me serviced - Serena and Offred have agreed (see chapter 31) that Nick will have sexual intercourse with Offred in an attempt to impregnate her. They need to do this at about the time of the monthly Ceremony with the Commander. Offred's choice of the word ‘serviced' suggest that Serena Joy sees this as a mechanical act, akin to having the car ‘serviced', or that they are merely like animals copulating (a mare is ‘serviced' by a stallion).

Auschwitz survivor with tattoothe tattoo ... means ownership - Each Handmaid has had a tattoo put on her ankle to identify her and make it more difficult to escape. It has four digits and an eye - see chapter 12. In Nazi Germany, prisoners in concentration camps were tattooed with a number to identify them - and to reduce them to a number rather than a fully human person. See Social / political context > Political satire > Hitler and the Nazis.

I can't afford pride or aversion - Offred knows that she has no power in this relationship. She is usually expected in the Ceremony to show no reaction, and has no emotional response, but tries to persuade her body to react as if she felt pleasure. The whole scene creates a sense of deadness and sterility, and ‘Jezebel's' attempts to suggest glamour only point up the tawdriness of these sexual encounters. We see here how far sex and love are from being the same thing.

Investigating chapter thirty-nine

  • Everything is the very same as it was, once upon a time.
    • In how many ways is this encounter in a hotel room the ‘very same' as Offred's surreptitious meetings with Luke
    • In what ways is it entirely different?

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