Nick's non-conformity

Nick is a Guardian, a member of the security forces of Gilead, who has been assigned to the Commander as a chauffeur. Offred's first encounter with him (chapter 4) reveals his underlying lack of conformity. He:

  • Wears his cap ‘tilted at a jaunty angle'
  • Has ‘a cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth'
  • Is ‘too casual ... not servile enough'.

Offred describes him as having:

‘a French face, lean, whimsical ... with creases around the mouth where he smiles.'

Nick's trustworthiness

When Nick winks at Offred, it means ‘he's just taken a risk', but Offred wonders whether he is in fact an Eye, a member of the Secret Police, in which case the wink may have been ‘a test, to see what I would do.' At the very end of the last chapter (before the Historical Notes), Offred - and the reader - still does not know whether Nick can be trusted or not, and whether Offred is being taken to torture and death or to the start of an escape route. The very existence of the tapes, which must have been made after the events they describe (there were no facilities to make them in Gilead), suggests at first that she did escape - but, as Pieixoto points out, they could be a forgery. So we can never be sure of Nick's role.

Body language

Nick and Offred from the 1990 film, photo from Nick and Offred have a sexual relationship seems certain (as certain as anything can be in the novel which, as Atwood, via Offred, frequently reminds us, is a construction or reconstruction). The first time they are in close proximity, on the evening before the Ceremony (chapter 14), Nick stands behind the kneeling Offred ‘so close that the tip of his boot is touching my foot.' When she moves her foot away, he moves his too, so that ‘it's touching mine again.' When Offred creeps down to the sitting-room at night, to ‘steal something', she finds Nick there; not knowing that he has been sent to find her, she feels that they have in common the fact of their being illegally in the room: ‘for the moment we're mirrors'. In fact, he has come to give her the message that the Commander wants to see her the next night in his office. However, before passing on the message, Offred tells us, Nick ‘pulls me against him, his mouth on mine.' From then on, she is aware that his body-language becomes her signal, as he tilts his cap to indicate that the Commander wants her.

Deepening relationship

From the beginning, Offred has been sensuously aware of Nick's body. She wonders immediately (chapter 4) how his ‘tanned skin, moist in the sun, filmed with smoke,' might smell. One afternoon (chapter 28) she watches him out of her window, aware that although he is now ‘my flag, my semaphore', she has not spoken to him since their encounter in the dark. As he walks through the garden, she looks at him in his shirt sleeves, ‘bare arms sticking shamelessly out from the rolled cloth,' and as he ‘stretches in the sun', she senses:

‘the ripple of muscles go along him, like a cat's back arching.'

Love or just intercourse?

When Serena Joy suggests to Offred (chapter 31) that, in view of her husband's failure to get Offred pregnant, Nick might try, Offred's relationship with Nick changes significantly. After the first time, when Serena escorts her to the kitchen on the way to Nick's room over the garage, Offred goes frequently of her own volition. The reader cannot be sure of the exact nature of their relationship, other than that it does involve sexual intercourse, because Offred gives us two versions (in chapter 40) of their first embraces:

  • In one, she is ecstatic: ‘love, it's been so long, I'm alive in my skin, again, arms around him...'. But then she tells us that ‘It didn't happen that way'
  • In the second version they engage in more cynical talk, and he tells her that he ‘gets paid' to take her to his bed. ‘No romance? Okay?' he says. But ‘it didn't happen that way either,' Offred later comments.

Nevertheless, she goes back to Nick ‘time after time ... for myself entirely'. He is not a substitute for Luke, but a love in his own right. Her desire for him is such, she knows, that:

‘I no longer want to leave, escape... I want to be here with Nick, where I can get at him.'

She gazes hungrily at him:

‘I want to take him in, memorize him.. the lines of his body, the texture of his flesh, the glisten of sweat on his pelt.'

Offred's trust in Nick

Eventually Offred tells Nick she is sure that she is carrying his child, though she knows that this ‘is wishful thinking'. She trusts him, and, most significantly, tells him her real name - though she does not tell us. Telling him means that she feels ‘that therefore I am known' and that it is:

‘impossible to think that anyone for whom I feel such gratitude could betray me.'

It's impossible to think, perhaps, but not impossible to happen. The night after the Particicution and the disappearance of the original Ofglen (chapter 45), Offred hears the black van coming and sees it arrive at the house. It is Nick who enters her room first, and whispers to her that ‘It's all right. It's Mayday,' and calls her by her real name. She is instantly suspicious but he tells her, ‘Trust me', and as it is, ‘all I'm left with', she does. Whether or not she should, we shall never know.

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