The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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What does the Commander want from Offred? when Offred was asked to meet the Commander and play Scrabble, what is the purpose of it?

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favoritethings eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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First, it is obvious that the Commander doesn't have a particularly satisfying relationship with his wife. She seems to distrust and even dislike him. On the night of the Ceremony, when the family gathers together in the sitting room, Serena Joy lights a cigarette and says, "Late as usual," describing her husband to the other members of the household. Such a statement, uttered without humor, seems cynical, even irritated or angry. In the absence of any real companionship, maybe the Commander simply wants some kind of human connection, and this makes sense given his request that Offred "kiss him as if [she] meant it." This makes it seem as though no one else does. Later, he tells Offred that his wife doesn't "understand." He continues, saying,

she won't talk to me much anymore. We don't seem to have much in common, these days.

And Offred thinks,

So there it was, out in the open: his wife didn't understand him. That's what I was there for, then. The same old thing. It was too banal to be true.

At one point, Offred expresses her own interpretation of what the Commander wants. She says,

I thought he might be toying, some cat-and-mouse routine, but now I think that his motives and desires weren't obvious even to him. They had not yet reached the level of words.

She thinks he isn't even sure what he wants her there for. He provides her with things that he thinks will make her happy: an opportunity to read old fashion magazines, hand lotion, conversation. Perhaps he hopes that she will not hang herself as his last handmaid did. Offred learns that the Latin-sounding phrase the former handmaid scratched into her closet isn't random; rather, it is something that handmaid must have heard in the Commander's company or saw in his book. In other words, he's done this before. Perhaps he feels guilt and wants to try to make Offred happy.

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When the Commander asks for Offred to come to his study and play Scrabble, it seems that he has at least two motives. One motive seems to be to have some kind of friendship/relationship, something “real,” with another person. His approach, at first, is rather innocent and contradicts what Offred thinks he might want. This motive can also be reinforced by the demeanor of his wife, Serena Joy. She is cold and unimpressed by her husband’s position in society, and he seems to be looking for someone to whom he can relate. Another motive, a much more sinister one, can be inferred from the constraints set forth in that society. The Commander could be trying to make Offred his “accomplice.” In doing this, he might make her so afraid of being caught that she would do whatever he wanted to avoid being found out. When he takes her to Jezebel’s and gives her a peek into the hypocrisy that reigns supreme in that society, he is giving her a knowledge that could be dangerous. He is also putting her into a very dangerous position, one that only he could rectify should it come to that.   

 

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