lllustration of six women wearing long, loose red dresses

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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Chapters 25–30: Summary

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Last Updated February 27, 2023.

Chapter 25

Offred wakes up to a loud crashing sound. Cora, who found her sleeping on the floor partially inside the closet, initially assumed Offred had committed suicide and, in her shock, had dropped the breakfast tray. Offred, not wanting Cora to have to explain what she saw in order to bring another breakfast, tells her that she is not particularly hungry and can manage with just the still-edible toast. Cora agrees to pretend that she dropped the tray and broke the dishes on her way out of Offred's room, which pleases Offred, as she appreciates Cora's willingness to lie for her.

Offred visits the Commander several times per week, always as signaled by Nick. During her second visit, they once again play Scrabble, after which he offers her a special privilege: the opportunity to look at an outdated edition of Vogue magazine, which is not allowed in Gilead.

Offred eagerly consumes the magazine's images of stylish and self-assured women, who seem to belong to a different kind than the women of Gilead. When she inquires about the magazine's presence with the Commander, he explains that certain individuals in Gilead enjoy such things, which are not harmful when handled by the right people.

During their third encounter, Offred requests skin cream from the Commander, which he delivers at their next meeting. When she informs him that she has nowhere to conceal it due to her quarters being frequently searched, he expresses surprise, which irritates her. Nevertheless, she applies the cream and appreciates the luxury.

Chapter 26

After a month, the Ceremony is held once more. Previously, Offred had managed to approach it as an unpleasant obligation to endure; now, she is troubled. Upon encountering the Commander that evening, she experiences an uneasy and timid sensation explaining, “he was no longer a thing to me.” 

Offred's sentiments towards Serena Joy have changed as well. While she had formerly experienced only pure and uncomplicated animosity towards her, her emotions are no longer as straightforward. She experiences envy of Serena Joy's relationship with the Commander and guilt over her intrusion into the household. She is also aware that she holds a certain degree of power over Serena Joy, which causes her to recall Aunt Lydia's lecture about the forthcoming state of women in Gilead, where they will exist as a united family striving for a shared goal. Aunt Lydia had prophesied that the future would bring greater liberty for future generations of Handmaids.

Offred arrives at a significant realization regarding her relationship with the Commander. She is no longer solely his sexual servant, but instead his mistress, and mistresses possess influence. Moreover, she has found something that enables her to pass the prolonged, unoccupied nights. This makes her content, more content than she has been in a very long time. She understands that she has become an individual in the eyes of the Commander, just as he has become one to her.

Chapter 27

During another shopping expedition with Ofglen, Offred notices fewer suspicions between the two. On account of the sweltering June weather—intensified by their stifling outfits—they proceed at a leisurely pace. They first encounter the university, which Offred believes now has an unoccupied library with no books. Subsequently, they halt at Soul Scrolls, one of Gilead's innovations. This establishment enables Gilead's inhabitants to purchase computer-generated prayers either in person or over the phone. The five prayers may be acquired by entering one's computer number. The utilization of these machines is a symbol of religious devotion and loyalty to the government.

Offred becomes aware that Ofglen is gazing at her through the reflection in the shop window. She then asks, "Do you think God listens to these machines?" Despite her alarm at this inquiry, Offred responds with a "No." In that instant, they crossed a crucial boundary. As they continue to proceed along the street, Ofglen whispers, "you can join us."

While walking back, they observe a man carrying a briefcase being arrested by two Eyes. He is rapidly forced into a black van and driven away. Offred experiences only relief that it was not her who was taken into custody.

Chapter 28 

Upon returning to her room, Offred is too stimulated by Ofglen’s offer to take her nap. Instead, she reflects on the revelation of Moira’s sexuality and remembers her friend’s distaste at Offred’s relationship with Luke, a married man. Offred recalls an argument with Moira over the affair, in which Moira accused her of hurting other women, to which Offred responded, “if Moira thought she could create Utopia by shutting herself up in a woman-only enclave she was sadly mistaken.”

In the past, Offred worked to migrate books to computer disks. Thinking of her old job, she is stunned by the fact that millions of women used to go to work and get paid for their work. Like so many other aspects of pre-Gilead life, this practice has become obsolete.

She recalls Gilead’s takeover; first, the President and Congress were killed, and Islamic terrorists were accused of the act. After that, there was a “temporary” halt to the Constitution, newspapers were monitored and eventually shut down, and roadblocks were established.

One day, as Offred was going to work, she stopped by her regular cigarette store but found that the female clerk was replaced by a young man. When he tried to use her Compunumber on the register, it was rejected twice. Later at work, her boss informed her and the other female employees that they were no longer allowed to work there, as it was now law. He apologized to them and asked them to leave, and Offred noticed two armed men with machine guns in the hallway. Shocked, the women filed out. 

After the firing, Offred returned home and attempted to call her mother, but there was no answer. She then contacted Moira, who informed her that all women's bank accounts had been frozen by the government. Their money and property would be transferred to their husbands if they had any. Moira explained that the firings and account freezes were implemented in unison to prevent people from leaving the country.

Offred recalls her efforts to adjust to the new restrictions on women that prohibited them from working or owning property. She bitterly remembers how Luke did not consider this a great injustice, comfortably settling into his role as the family's provider.

Chapter 29

Once more, Offred plays Scrabble with the Commander; after tallying up their scores, she emerges as the victor. The Commander presents her with various reading options, ranging from works by Charles Dickens to publications like Reader's Digest. However, Offred declines and instead expresses her desire to converse with him. She inquires about his background, and he reveals that he previously worked in the field of market research.

Following that, she inquires about the words that have been carved into the floor of her closet but struggles to enunciate them correctly. The Commander hands her a notepad and pen, urging her to write them down. This marks the first time in many years she has been permitted to write, so it is slightly tricky for her. She prints out the phrase, "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum," and hands the notepad back to him.

After reading the message, he laughs and informs her that it is a type of fake Latin commonly used by schoolboys. He proceeds to grab a Latin grammar book and points out some of the notes written in the margins. When she asks for the meaning of the message, he replies with "Don't let the bastards grind you down."

Suddenly, she inquires about the fate of the previous Handmaid who left the message on the closet floor, asking "What happened to her?" The Commander quickly realizes who she is referring to and informs Offred that the Handmaid hanged herself. He explains that the previous Handmaid's death was because Serena Joy discovered his secret rendezvous with her. The Commander becomes anxious that Offred may want to terminate their meetings, asking her what she desires besides hand lotion. She responds, telling him that she wants to know "what's going on."

Chapter 30

While lying in bed, Offred allows her mind to wander back in time. She recalls her attempt to escape to Canada with Luke after the emergence of Gilead became apparent. In an effort to conceal their true intentions, they pretended to be going on a countryside picnic. As a result, they were unable to take much with them, and their home had to appear untouched.

The only issue they encountered was regarding their pet cat. They were unable to take it with them but could not leave it behind, as it could meow and expose their escape. Luke reluctantly took on the unpleasant responsibility of killing the cat; to Offred, this was an example of the awful sacrifices that must be made under a dictatorship. 

She attempts to conjure up images of Luke and their daughter but can no longer clearly visualize their faces. The thought of losing those precious memories is unbearable to her.

She reminisces about the prayers they were required to recite while at the Red Center and remembers kneeling on the hard wooden floor and repeating: “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 ponders about God and what He may be doing at the moment. She questions if He too is tired of everything, as she imagines she would be. She yearns for God to communicate with her during her moments of sadness and isolation but her pleas go unanswered.

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Chapters 19–24: Summary

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Chapters 31–40: Summary