Section 14: Salvaging - Chapter forty-four

Synopsis of chapter forty-four

Later that same day, Offred goes to meet Ofglen, to go shopping, However, the person she meets is a new Ofglen who has replaced the other. Offred is uncertain about whether she can trust this new Ofglen, but risks introducing the word ‘Mayday' into their conversation.

The new Ofglen responds by warning Offred to avoid such words, in a way that shows she knows about, but is not part of, the resistance movement. Offred is terrified to think that she may have betrayed herself. Just before they part, the new Ofglen whispers to Offred that the old Ofglen hanged herself that morning, after realising she was to be arrested for kicking unconscious the particicution victim.

Commentary on chapter forty-four

She isn't Ofglen ... I am Ofglen - The replacement Ofglen has been put in place within hours of the death of the other. This suggests the speed with which the régime acts to remove subversive elements, and its ability to remove all trace of those who oppose it.

May the Lord open ... Which I receive with joy - These platitudes remove all real meaning from their language, so that there are no true ‘exchanges'. (See also Themes and significant ideas > Human relationships.)

She could mean ... Or she could mean ... no clues there - Offred has no way of knowing, from the expressionless voice and the meaningless responses which have comprised their conversation so far, how she is to interpret Ofglen's comment.

Menacing... ‘You ought to clear your mind of such.. Echoes' - Ofglen's warning indicates that the signal ‘Mayday' is a word from the past, a mere ‘echo' of something from a previous existence. She implies that there is no longer any way for people to resist.

I walk the last blocks in terror ... It's no use - The short, panicky sentences which Atwood uses in this section recreate the terrified ideas surging through Offred's mind.

I'll say anything they like, I'll incriminate anyone – Offred echoes Orwell's novel 1984, where he describes ‘Room 101', in which the worst thing each person can imagine may be inflicted on them. Orwell's protagonist, Winston Smith, is threatened with having a cage of hungry rats fixed over his head to gnaw off his face. Unsurprisingly, he is willing to ‘say anything.. incriminate anybody' to save himself from this horror.

Under His Eye - Another echo of 1984, in which ‘Big Brother' - the all-powerful state and its comprehensive spying systems - keeps an intrusive eye on everyone. In Gilead, the phrase is supposed to suggest a benevolent, watchful Providence, but is in fact a sinister reminder that no-one can escape surveillance. 

Investigating chapter forty-four

  • Write a version of this chapter from the perspective of the new Ofglen.

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