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The Handmaid's Tale: Novel Summary: Chapters 40-43

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At midnight some days later, Offred follows Serena Joy down the stairs. Serena gives her instructions for how to get to Nick's room, above the garage. After very few preliminaries, Nick and Offred have sex. Unlike with the Commander, Offred is able to respond. Afterwards, she feels guilty at betraying Luke.
Offred goes back many times to Nick in secret, without Serena knowing. In order to do so, she becomes reckless, willing to take chances. Each time, she and Nick make love as if there will never be another opportunity. She feels safe when she is with him, although she knows this is an illusion.
Ofglen gives Offred suggestions about how she could find out more about the Commander. She offers to get Offred a key to his office. But Offred is no longer much interested in the Commander. When Ofglen says that the resistance movement could get her out if necessary, Offred, although she does not tell this to Ofglen, does not want to leave. She wants to stay with Nick.
Offred attends a district women's Salvaging, on the lawn in front of a building that used to be a library on what used to be a university campus. The Handmaids kneel at the front. On the stage are three women who are to be Salvaged: two Handmaids and a Wife. Aunt Lydia gives a speech full of the usual platitudes and slogans. She does not describe the crimes the women have been guilty of. The Salvagings then proceed. The Wife is helped up on to a high stool and a noose is placed around her neck. She is hanged. Offred has seen such things before and this time she chooses not to look.
The three bodies hang, and Aunt Lydia announces that the Salvaging is concluded. But something else is about to happen. The Handmaids are invited to stand up and form a circle. Aunt Lydia tells them that this is a Particicution and that they know the rules. Two Guardians drag a third man forward from behind the stage. The man is bruised and cut. Aunt Lydia announces that he is a former Guardian who has been convicted of rape. The man starts to protest his innocence, but the Handmaids set upon him. Ofglen gets in the first blows, and the other women tear him to pieces. When it is over, Offred reproaches Ofglen, but Ofglen replies that the man was not a rapist but a member of the resistance. She knocked him out quickly to put him out of his misery.
These chapters reveal Offred's essentially passive nature. She is not like Moira, who was always ready to take decisive action to free herself. On the contrary, Offred now becomes so content with her relationship with Nick that she no longer wants to leave, and does not respond to Ofglen's attempts to persuade her to gather information about the Commander. Offred has been starved of affection for so long, and has had no outlet for her emotions, that she can perhaps be forgiven for allowing herself to be lulled into complacency by her sexual involvement with Nick.
The Salvagings and the Particicution are the most violent sections of the novel. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Particicution is that the bloodlust of the Handmaids seizes hold even of the decent-minded Offred. Despite herself, she feels her hands clenching. "I want to tear, gouge, rend," she says. The gruesome Particicutions (the word is formed by combining "participation" with "execution") is a tribute to the cunning nature of the Gilead authorities. It is the only occasion on which the Handmaids are allowed to vent their emotions. By ensuring that there are regular occasions when all the Handmaids' ugly feelings, their resentments against the lives they are forced to lead, can come to the surface and be purged, the leaders of Gilead ensure that their society is not otherwise disrupted by explosions of female anger. Particiutions therefore reinforce the power of the totalitarian society.


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