Section 14: Salvaging - Chapter forty-three

Synopsis of chapter forty-three

After all three prisoners have been executed, Aunt Lydia announces that there is to be a special event in which the Handmaids are to take part. It is a ‘particicution' - an execution in which they are to participate. A young man, who has clearly been tortured, is dragged in. Aunt Lydia says that he and an accomplice have raped two Handmaids, one of whom was pregnant and whose baby died as a result.

As the Handmaids surge forward to tear him to pieces, Ofglen kicks him in the head. She whispers to Offred that he was not a rapist but a member of the underground resistance whom she has deliberately kicked unconscious to try to spare him some of his terrible fate. Offred sees other Handmaids, including Janine, smeared with his blood. Back at the house, Offred feels sick, but also strangely hungry.

Commentary on chapter forty-three

Like chickens ... like birds ... wrecked angels - Atwood's range of images subtly changes our perception of these victims. (See also Imagery and symbolism.)

they wouldn't go that far - Yet ‘they' do. Atwood makes it clear to us that there is no horror too awful for such tyrannical régimes to inflict - and by telling us that Gilead was once the United States of America she also makes it clear how easily supposedly civilised people can degenerate into brutality. (See also Social / political context.)

Particicution - A portmanteau word, combining ‘participate' and ‘execution'. In the Historical Notes, Professor Pieixoto says that the term came from ‘an exercise program popular in the last third of the (twentieth) century'.

a mangled bulb or tuber - The description suggests something that has been made less than human.

The penalty for rape … is death. Deuteronomy 22: 23-29 - Deuteronomy is the fifth book in the Old Testament, detailing the formation of the Israelites as nation. In the verses cited by Aunt Lydia, the death penalty is decreed where a man has raped a defenceless woman, who ‘cried and there was none to save her'.

bloodlust; I want to tear, gouge, rend - The feelings of hatred are similar to those suggested in George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, where the controlling powers organise a ‘two-minutes' hate', inciting the populace to scream abuse at a scapegoat, Goldstein, to divert attention from any criticism of its own actions.

It isn't Luke. But it could have been … I can't touch him - In spite of her initial feelings of bloodlust, Offred realises that this man is not some anonymous object of hatred, but a human being, a person like Luke or Nick who should be valued.

Ofglen ... kicks his head viciously - This apparently brutal action is all Ofglen can offer to help this man, knocking him unconscious before he is, quite literally, torn to pieces.

He has become an it - Offred said in chapter 30 that, in order to kill, you need to regard the human or animal as an ‘it', denying its real living value. The state, she decided, had forced people to ‘kill, within yourself'.

a smear of blood ... holding a clump of blond hair ... ‘You have a nice day,' - Janine has become quite demented through her life as a Handmaid. In chapter 33, Offred described how Moira saw this coming, years before at the Red Centre, when Janine was already ‘slipping over the edge'. Then, as now, she reverted to the language of her job as a ‘waitperson'.

I could eat a horse - A cliché meaning ‘I'm very hungry', but here having more sinister connotations, reminding us of the flesh that has been scattered at the particicution.

Investigating chapter forty-three

  • The horrific idea of women who, in an ecstatic frenzy, tear a man apart, is graphically depicted in a very ancient play, The Bacchae by Euripides (reflecting a custom of the time).
    • Consider reading The Bacchae, or look up information about it on the internet and make notes on the similarities and differences of behaviour.
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