Study Questions 1. Why does Cora panic when she sees Offred asleep on the floor?
2. What is important about the models in the copy of Vogue?
3. How does the Commander justify having copies of fashion magazines such as Vogue if they were supposed to have been burned during the revolution?
4. How does Offred feel power over Serena Joy?
5. Why is Offred so hesitant to reply to Ofglen’s question about the Soul Scrolls?
6. What do the Soul Scrolls reveal about the spirituality of Gilead?
7. How was Gilead able to kill the President and Congress?
8. During the revolution, why did the government freeze women’s bank accounts at the same time that it dismissed women from their jobs?
9. What does Offred realize when the Commander shows her that Nolite te bastardes carborundorum came from the margins of his textbook?
10. What is the significance of the Handmaids’ prayer at the Red Center?
Answers 1. Offred has wondered about her predecessor a great deal, even imagining her manner and looks. This woman hanged herself, apparently in this same room. Cora may have been the first one to find the body. So, finding Offred, still dressed in her gown and lying halfway in the closet, she must have thought this was another suicide.
2. Handmaids are conditioned to modesty, walking with bowed heads, avoiding other people’s eyes. But the models in Vogue seem proud and defiant, some standing with their feet apart like buccaneers. They wear a great variety of clothes of many colors and materials, unlike Handmaids who wear a single uniform, so the models virtually shout, “We have choice!”
3. The Commander argues that these outlawed materials would be dangerous in the hands of the masses but harmless for those in power. One sign of a totalitarian government is that the leaders tend to exempt themselves from the rules established for the society and to generally mistrust those without power.
4. The Commander, in these secret evening trysts, is clearly more casual with Offred than he ever appears to be with Serena Joy. He is also probably more open to requests from Offred than he is from his wife. If Serena Joy knew this, she would be humiliated that a servant has a greater effect on her husband than she does. Offred enjoys this feeling of power over her rival, even though Serena Joy is unaware of it.
5. Even before the episode of the arrest of the man with the briefcase, Offred has reason to be cautious—even paranoid—about expressing herself to others. Gilead is full of spies and informers, so Ofglen’s cynical comment on the Soul Scrolls may be a trap for her. All the same, she has begun to feel a rapport with Ofglen, so her shy “No” is a small step toward establishing trust.
6. The Soul Scrolls indicate that while Gileadean society is structured almost entirely on biblical concepts, it is spiritually bankrupt. Prayers for health, wealth, death, birth, and sins can be purchased—reminiscent of the corrupt system of selling indulgences in the Middle Ages—and then recited not by a person but by a machine. These gestures are clearly intended as signs of true piety and faithfulness to the regime rather than to God.
7. The Commander was in market research, he says, before the revolution. Other leaders of the revolution must have been similarly substantial citizens. They would have had access to members of Congress, even the President, as leaders of business and their communities. They were insiders, which gave them opportunities that most others would have been denied. Change—even...
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revolution—is far easier to accomplish from inside than from outside.
8. Women’s bank accounts were frozen at the same time that women lost their jobs so that they would not have the resources to flee the country. The regime especially did not want to lose women such as Offred since they represented the greatest national treasure—potential reproductivity.
9. Seeing the Latin phrase in the Commander’s textbook, Offred realizes that her predecessor also made these illegal visits to the Commander’s study. When the Commander goes on to tell Offred that the previous Offred committed suicide because Serena Joy found out about their trysts, she sees that he is equally willing to put her in as dangerous a position.
10. The prayer is meant to be self-abasing, a statement that women’s only purpose is to bear children. Praying to be “fulfilled” is ironic, because we never see a single Handmaid who seems fulfilled.