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The Handmaid's Tale: Novel Summary: Chapters 25-28

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In the morning, Offred is asleep, still half in the closet. Cora brings Offred her breakfast, but screams and drops the tray when she sees her. Offred explains that she was dizzy and that was why she was lying on the floor.
Some months pass. Offred and the Commander have been meeting regularly, two or three times a week, after dinner, when she receives a signal from Nick. Whenever Serena Joy goes out, Offred can be certain she will get the signal. She then explains what happens at the their meetings. On the second occasion, they played Scrabble again, and he gave her an old copy of the glossy magazine, Vogue, the type of magazine that is now banned. All copies are supposed to have been burned. She flicks through it, and it reminds her of her girlhood. He says he has it because he retains an appreciation for the old things, and is showing it to her because he has no one else to show it to. On their third meeting she asks him for some hand or face lotion, and he agrees to get her some, which he produces on their fourth meeting. They agree that it must be kept in the Commander's office, since she has nowhere to hide it.
Several weeks later, when the Ceremony happens again, it is different from before. Before, it was entirely impersonal. But now, Offred feels shy about it, and this time, the Commander looks at her, which he had never done before. She is embarrassed by the whole procedure, whereas before, it had just been a job she had to do. But she also realizes that because of her secret liaison with the Commander, she has a kind of power over Serena Joy, and she enjoys this. The Commander reaches up to her face, as if he is going to touch her, but she moves her face away, hoping that Serena Joy has not seen this gesture. When she and the Commander next meet in his office, she tells him not to do that again. She accepts the fact that she is the Commander's mistress, and she feels happier than she was before.
Offred and Ofglen walk together down the street on a hot summer's day. They are more comfortable with each other now, since they have got used to each other's company. They reach the Wall, but there are no bodies on display. Offred's thoughts turn to Luke and his whereabouts. On their way back they pass a store called Soul Scrolls, which turns out printed prayers that people can order. Ofglen makes a remark that causes Offred to realize that she doesn't believe in the regime's propaganda. Her reply conveys her own lack of belief to Ofglen. They both confess that they had thought the other was a true believer. Ofglen says Offred can join them, by which she means she can join the underground resistance movement. Just ahead of them, a black official van pulls up, of the type driven by the Eyes, the security forces. Offred is scared that her subversive conversation with Ofglen has been overheard. Two Eyes alight from the van, grab a man from the street and force him into the van. Offred is relieved that it was not her they were after.
Offred recalls some of her conversations with Moira when they were both college students. After college Offred got a job in a library. Then the catastrophe happened. The President and the entire Congress were killed, and the army declared a state of emergency, blaming the killings on Islamic fanatics. The Constitution was suspended, newspapers were censored and closed. Everyone was issued with an Identipass. Pornomarts were shut, and this seemed to have been met with widespread approval. One day when she goes to the store, the clerk tells her that her Compunumber, which she uses to make all her purchases, is not valid. She is also laid off from her job at the library. The library director, who is being intimidated by armed men in uniforms, tells the female employees they cannot work there any more. A law has been passed to that effect. This made Offred entirely dependent on Luke, with whom she was living. Moira explains that the authorities have wiped out all Compunumbers belonging to women. Only men are now allowed to have one. Nor can women hold property any more. Luke tried to comfort her, saying he would take care of her.
Back in the present, Nick returns to the house. He gives her the signal (his cap on sideways) to show that she has been sent for by the Commander. She wonders what Nick gets out of this arrangement. There must be something in it for him, she thinks, even if it is only a pack of cigarettes.
These chapters reveal more about the character of the Commander. He is still courteous, polite, and patient with Offred, but he reveals an underlying hypocrisy and elitism when he explains that he thinks it is all right for him to possess banned magazines but it would be dangerous for the masses to do so. He also seems to know surprisingly little about the conditions under which the Handmaids live. It is news to him when Offred informs him that the rooms of the Handmaids are often searched. The Commander seems an unlikely man to occupy the position he does. In his way he seems as isolated and lonely as Offred, and she fills his need to communicate with someone in a genuine way. For example, when Offred asks him why he showed her the magazine, he replies, "Who else could I show it to?" It seems that misses the old days. She thinks that for him, she has become �no longer merely a usable body. To him I'm not just a boat with no cargo, a chalice with no wine in it, an oven-to be crude-without the bun. To him I am not merely empty."
The Commander fulfils a similar kind of need in Offred. Her relationship with him, in spite of its bizarre and unequal nature, fulfils at least some of her need for a real relationship with someone-almost anything would be an improvement on the empty existence she otherwise leads.
One of Offred's most disturbing thoughts is not about the Commander or anything that has happened to her since she was designated a Handmaid. It is something she noticed in Luke, just after she found out that she could no longer use her Compubank account because she was a woman. From then on women were in effect owned by men. Luke comforted her but she had a feeling that he was not displeased with the idea that he owned her. Such a thought is all the more disturbing because Luke is presented throughout as a worthy man for Offred (even though he was married when they first became involved with each other). It appears they had a good, loving relationship. And yet even he seems comfortable (or so Offred senses) with the idea of a male supremacist ideology. This incident suggests that the desire to deny equality to women remains deep-rooted in the male psyche, despite over a century of women's rights movements.
It is in moments like this that Atwood hints at how Gilead was established-with the cooperation of the people themselves, not as something imposed on them from without. As Offred describes it in ch. 28, no one objected to the roadblocks and Identipasses that were an early feature of Gilead, since "you couldn't be too careful" after the confusion caused by the assassinations of the President and Congress. Also, the closing of the pornography centers known as Pornomarts was welcomed by women. It was only later, when the real nature of Gilead became known, that resistance groups sprang up. There is a parallel here with Nazi Germany. The Nazi regime was largely supported by the German people in the 1930s, who did not understand its true nature.


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