Chapters 25–30: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2316

Chapter 25 Summary

Offred is awakened by a scream and a crash. Finding Offred asleep on the floor, half in the closet, Cora had thought her dead, a suicide, and in her shock has dropped the breakfast tray. If she brings a second breakfast, she will have to explain what happened, so Offred says she wasn’t really hungry and will make do with the toast, still edible. Cora says she will pretend she dropped the tray and broke the dishes on the way out of Offred’s room; Offred is pleased that Cora will lie for her.

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Soon Offred visits the Commander two or three nights a week, whenever she is signalled by Nick. On the second visit, they again play Scrabble, then he offers her a treat: a glimpse at an old copy of Vogue magazine, something forbidden in Gilead.

She devours its fashion photos of bold, confident women, almost a different species from the women now. When Offred asks the Commander why he has it, he says that some in Gilead appreciate such things, which are not dangerous in the right hands.

At their third meeting, Offred asks him for some skin cream, and he brings her some at their next tryst. He is surprised when she says there is nowhere she can hide it because her room is searched. His ignorance angers her, but she uses the cream all the same.

Chapter 25 Analysis

It is significant to Offred that Cora offers to lie about the broken dishes. Cora was always the friendlier of the two Marthas, but now she and Offred have a bond, a minor alliance.

The Commander’s possession of a magazine (all of them were supposed to have been burned) is another sign that even those who wrote Gilead’s laws can’t live under them. His obvious elitism—claiming such things, while bad for the masses, are acceptable in his hands—loses him most of Offred’s sympathy.

The chapter marks Offred’s significant strengthening, if only she could see it. The Handmaid who, a short time ago, was friendless, powerless, and fearful of losing her sanity now has an ally in Cora and a degree of influence over the Commander.

Chapter 26 Summary

A month has passed and the Ceremony takes place again. Previously, Offred had been able to treat it as a distasteful duty to endure, but now she is troubled. When she sees the Commander that night, she feels awkward and shy. As she says, “He was no longer a thing to me.”

She also feels differently about Serena Joy. Where once she experienced a pure and simple hatred for her, her feelings are now more complicated. She feels jealous of Serena Joy’s connection to the Commander and guilty over her intrusion into the family, but she also is aware that she has a certain kind of power over her. This reminds her of Aunt Lydia’s lecture on the future of women in Gilead: that they will live as one family, working for a common goal. The future, Aunt Lydia said, will hold greater freedom for generations of Handmaids. Each, for instance, will have a little garden.

Offred comes to an important conclusion about the Commander: she is no longer his sexual servant, but his mistress, and mistresses have clout. And she has a diversion, a way to pass those long, empty evenings. She is happier than she has been in a very long time. She realizes that she has become an individual to the Commander, just as he has to her.

Chapter 26 Analysis

Offred’s sense of power and new happiness have good and bad consequences. The good is that her life is much more bearable and she is not tempted by suicide. The bad is that, because she is happier, she may become complacent, less eager to escape and rejoin Luke, less willing to resist Gilead’s domination.

Chapter 27 Summary

Shopping again with Ofglen, Offred notes that they are less suspicious of each other. Because of the heat of the June day, made more oppressive by their all-covering clothes, they take their time. They first pass the university, whose library, Offred thinks, is now empty of books. Then they pause at Soul Scrolls, one of Gilead’s inventions. In this shop, Gilead’s citizens can order computer-printed prayers, in person or by telephone. The five prayers are paid for by punching in one’s computer number. Using the machines is a sign of religious devotion and loyalty to the state.

Offred realizes that Ofglen is looking at her—Offred—through the reflection in the store window. Then Ofglen comments, “Do you think God listens to these machines?” Despite her panic at this question, Offred manages to reply, “No.” Suddenly they have crossed a fateful barrier. As they continue down the street, Ofglen murmurs, “You can join us.”

On their return walk, they witness an arrest. Two Eyes swoop down on an ordinary man carrying a briefcase. He is bundled off into a black van and immediately driven away. All Offred feels is relief that she was not the one arrested.

Chapter 27 Analysis

Soul Scrolls shows two things: the emptiness of Gilead’s religion, now mechanized, and the fact that even prayer is regimented in Gilead.

Most important in this chapter is Ofglen’s statement, “You can join us.” This suggests something beyond Moira’s individual rebellion and escape, or the grapevine of information and rumor. There is a resistance organization and Ofglen is part of it; it is not just something on television. It gives Offred a terrific lift, for she can become part of it.

But the arrest of the unidentified man is a reminder that Gilead is full of danger.

Chapter 28 Summary

Back in her room, Offred is too excited by Ofglen’s words to take her required afternoon nap. Instead, she thinks of when Moira first declared herself a lesbian and of her affair with Luke before their marriage. She and Moira had argued over the affair, with Moira accusing her of hiding her head in the sand and Offred retorting, “If Moira thought she could create Utopia by shutting herself up in a woman-only enclave she was sadly mistaken.”

Back then, Offred worked at transferring books to computer discs. She marvels now at the idea of millions of women going to work everyday and being paid for it. Like paper money, this is something dead and gone.

This prompts memories of Gilead’s coup: the President and Congress were slaughtered and Islamic terrorists were blamed for it. Then there was “temporary” suspension of the Constitution, newspapers were censored and closed, roadblocks were set up, etc.

One morning on her way to work, she stopped at her usual store for cigarettes. The regular woman clerk had been replaced by a young man. When he tried her Compunumber on the register, it was rejected twice. Soon after she arrived at work, her boss entered in an agitated state, telling the women they could no longer work there—it was the law. Almost in tears, he apologized to them, but insisted they leave, and Offred noticed two men armed with machine guns in the corridor. In a state of shock, the women filed out.

Back home, she had tried to telephone her mother, but there was no reply. She then tried Moira, who told her that all women’s bank accounts had been frozen by the regime. Money, property, etc., would be transferred to their husbands, if they had them. Moira explained that the firings and the money freeze were put into effect suddenly and simultaneously to prevent people from fleeing the country.

Offred remembers trying to adapt to not being allowed to work or own property. And she remembers how Luke didn’t think it was a travesty, and how Luke slid very easily into his role of breadwinner and caretaker of the family.

Chapter 28 Analysis

Atwood’s creation of a cashless society foreshadows a current movement toward the universal use of computerized money cards onto which the owner can load a certain amount of money. The card is then used instead of cash, even to buy newspapers or candy. But she shows that with such a system, whoever controls the computers controls the economy and society. The freedom of not having a pocketful of cash can be turned in a flash into a loss of the means to live.

Similarly, putting all books onto computer discs, then shredding the actual volumes, allows a regime to close down all access to information, or even to erase or alter it. And, as Gilead knows, knowledge is power. Atwood is saying that progress may come at a far steeper price than we are willing to pay, so we better not accept it blindly.

The banning of women from the workplace echoes what happened in Iran after its Islamic revolution, and what would later happen under Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, which decreed that women not only could not hold jobs, they also were forbidden to go to school. All of this was done in the name of religion, for which many Islamic countries have condemned the Afghan regime.

Talking to Moira, Offred seems to feel regret and guilt that she has taken no active part in public affairs. Her timidity, like that of most Americans, has let the Gilead regime abandon constitutional government and rights with scarcely a shred of protest.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and Offred has learned the truth of that.

Chapter 29 Summary

Again, Offred plays Scrabble with the Commander. After he adds up their scores (Offred has won), he offers her a selection of reading material from Charles Dickens to copies of Reader’s Digest. Offred says she would rather talk. She asks about him, and he tells her he once was in market research.

Next she asks him about the words scratched on her closet floor, but stumbles over their pronunciation. He pushes a pad and pen at her and tells her to write it down. It is the first time in years that she has been allowed to write, and it’s awkward for her. She prints the words, Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, and passes the pad back to him.

He reads the message, then laughs. It is fake Latin, he tells her, the kind used by schoolboys. He takes down a Latin grammar book to show her some of the scribblings in its margins, including what she wrote. She asks what it means anyway, and he tells her: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Abruptly she asks, “What happened to her?” The Commander immediately knows who she means—the previous Handmaid, the one who left those words on the closet floor—and he tells Offred she hanged herself. Serena Joy found out about his secret meetings with her, he adds. He grows nervous that she will want to discontinue these meetings, and so he asks what she wants other than hand lotion. She replies that she wants to know “what’s going on.”

Chapter 29 Analysis

The Commander’s readiness to talk about the previous Handmaid’s suicide can mean he is so confident that it doesn’t matter what he tells Offred. Or it can mean that he finds his world so bleak and empty that he needs to talk. Offred seems to read it this second way: that despite the wall between them, they both are in the same prison, grasping at any chance of relief, however dangerous.

If this is true of this one important man, it is probably true throughout Gilead. Perhaps Gilead is beginning to crack from within. This, added to the war fronts and the sabotage campaigns, may mean that the end of Gilead is not all that far away.

Offred’s question at the end of the chapter—“What’s going on?”—asks about the whole direction in which Gilead is heading, not just what is happening between the Commander and her. It is the ultimate question.

Chapter 30 Summary

In bed, Offred lets her thoughts drift to the past. She remembers the attempt she and Luke made to escape to Canada after she was fired from her job, when the shape of Gilead became obvious. They tried to make it look like they were just going for a picnic in the country, so their home had to look normal, and they could scarcely take anything with them.

The one problem was the family cat: they couldn’t take it, nor could they leave it, for it might yowl after a day or two and give away their escape. Luke takes on the wretched job of killing the cat, and Offred sees this as a cost of dictatorship: “They force you to kill....”

She tries to visualize Luke and her daughter, and is upset that their faces won’t come into focus. She can’t bear to lose those memories.

She remembers the prayers they had to say at the Center, kneeling on the wooden floor: “Oh God, King of the universe, thank you for not creating me a man. Oh God, obliterate me. Make me fruitful. Mortify my flesh, that I may be multiplied. Let me be fulfilled...”

She thinks now of God, wondering what He can be up to. Is He fed up? She would be. She wishes God would speak to her in her loneliness.

Chapter 30 Analysis

Since Offred is a Handmaid, we know her escape attempt failed. But we can wonder how many others attempted escape and what happened to them. Perhaps some did make it to freedom. Probably many died in the attempt. And the rest, like Offred, were captured and regimented by the state.

The prayer she and the other Handmaid-trainees recited is an amplification of what Offred ruefully said to her absent mother earlier: “You wanted a women’s culture.”

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