The Handmaid's Tale: Novel Summary: Chapters 5-8
As Offred continues to walk to the stores, she remembers her husband Luke in "the time before," and the plans they used to have for the future. All these have come to nothing now.
They stop at a shop with a wooden sign. The shops no longer have names. The sign shows three eggs, a bee and a cow. There is a line, but no one is saying much. But there is a rustle of excitement when a Handmaid named Ofwarren enters, since she is pregnant. The other Handmaids regard her with envy and desire. The sole purpose of the Handmaids is to produce children. Offred recognizes the woman, whose name in the time before was Janine.
After purchasing milk and eggs with their tokens, Offred and Ofglen go to the shop, All Flesh, which is marked by a wooden pork chop hanging from two chains. Offred buys some chicken.
Outside the store, they encounter some tourists from Japan. Offred and Ofglen are fascinated and appalled by the way the women are dressed, revealing themselves in ways that are not tolerated in Gilead but which were normal in America before the revolution. The Japanese interpreter asks Offred and Ofglen whether they are happy, and Offred replies that they are. She feels she can say nothing else.
On their way home they go to visit what they call the Wall. The building the Wall forms part of is guarded by sentries and has floodlights. There is barbed wire and broken glass set in concrete along the top. Beside the main gateway are six bodies hanging by their necks, their hands tied, their heads in white bags. They are placed there and left for days so that people will see them. The victims are doctors who performed abortions in the past, before the Republic of Gilead was established. Offred does not allow herself to feel anything as she looks at the corpses. She is relieved that Luke is not one of them. She and Ofglen communicate nothing of what they feel to each other, although Offred suspects that Ofglen may be crying.
At night, Offred recalls her old friend Moira, and the times they spent at college together. Then she recalls times she has spent with her feminist mother, particularly when she went with her to the park to join a book-burning. People were gathered and were burning pornographic magazines. Offred also recalls the time when she was captured by the guardians of the new state, and how they took away her young daughter.
When Ofglen and Offred go to the Wall again, they see the bodies of a priest and two homosexuals hanging. The homosexuals were former Guardians who were accused of "Gender Treachery." A small funeral procession passes them, of an infant born to one of the poorer, low-status women known as Econowives.
As they return, Nick, who is polishing the Commander's car in the driveway, speaks to Offred, which he is not supposed to do. She replies only with a nod. Offred passes the Commander's Wife, who is sitting in the garden, without speaking, and goes to the kitchen, where she hands over her food parcels to Rita. As she leaves, she sees the commander standing in the hall, near to her room. He is looking into her room. He hears her coming and walks towards her, then stops and looks at her before moving on. This is a breach of protocol, and Offred wonders what it signifies.
In Gilead, women have no independent status. The names of the Handmaids indicate that they are owned by the Commanders to whom they have been assigned. Offred's Commander is named Fred, for example, so she is Of-fred. She never discloses what her name was before the establishment of Gilead.
The nature of the victims at the Wall makes the ideology of Gilead clear. In modern political language, it is "pro-life." Abortion is punishable by death, and the regime is still pursuing and hanging doctors who performed abortions even when doing so was still legal. The Gilead regime is also anti-gay, as the hanging of the two men accused of "gender treachery" demonstrates. It is clear that the target of the book is the radical Christian right.
However, the matter is not quite as simple as that. Atwood, through Offred, does not let the reader forget that in former times (which means present-day America), women suffered from male violence. In chapter 5, for example, Offred remembers the rules:
Don't open your door to a stranger, even if he says he is the police. Make him slide his ID under the door. Don't stop on the road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble. Keep the locks on and keep going. . . . Don't go into a laundromat, by yourself, at night.
If life for women is oppressed now, it was hardly ideal before, which may explain why the architects of Gilead were able to establish their theocratic regime to easily. Many people must have passively supported it, thinking that "something ought to be done," without realizing how far the revolution would go to cement power in the hands of the few and to subjugate women.
The Handmaid's Tale Study GuideChoose to Continue
- The Handmaid's Tale
- Chapters 1-4
- Chapters 1-4
- Chapters 5-8
- Chapters 9-12
- Chapters 13-16
- Chapters 17-20
- Chapters 21-24
- Chapters 25-28
- Chapters 29-32
- Chapters 33-36
- Chapters 37-39
- Chapters 40-43
- Chapters 44-46 & Historical Notes
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Margaret Atwood
- Essay Q&A