What does Offred mean when she says "Context is all" in Chapter 24?
What does this signify?
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The "context" of an event is the circumstances surrounding that event, including who is present, where the event takes place, when it takes place and the purposes of the people involved. Offred's comment that "Context is all" refers to the previous lines about playing Scrabble with the Commander. In this particular context, in which Offred is a handmaid in the dystopian state of Gilead, playing Scrabble "is one of the most bizarre things that's happened to me, ever." She is bitterly amused that something as ordinary as playing Scrabble is, in her new situation, an extremely suprising and odd event. We get the impression that when she was a younger woman, before she became a handmaid, and society was still relatively free, playing Scrabble was not remarkable at all.
The way that Atwood isolates this statement, "Context is all", in its own micro-paragraph, and places it at the end of a short episode, does suggest a wider significance to the phrase as well. At the time this book was first-published, in 1985, the debate about women's rights was still very fresh and energetic after the progress made during the seventies. Atwood seems to be drawing the reader's attention to the "context" of that time. She seems to want us to explore and examine the faultlines in our own relatively equal Western society, and to appreciate the freedoms we have in comparison to the horrible scenario which she explores in The Handmaid's Tale. By considering the implications that these social restrictions might have on a simple Scrabble game, she highlights just how important it is that we protect our "context", test the justice of it, and don't take our positive circumstances for granted.
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