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The Handmaid's Tale: Novel Summary: Chapters 9-12

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Chapters 9-12

Offred tells of how, when she was exploring her room in minute detail, she found an inscription scratched in the corner of a closet. It read, Nolite te bastardes carborumdorum. She does not know what it means, but is convinced it was left by a former occupant of the room to be read by whoever came next. She tries to find out from Rita who the woman was, but Rita does not want to say.
In a reflective mood, Offred recalls the difference between life as it used to be and how it is now. There is less music in her life now. She has been made to dress differently. Women no longer expose their bodies to the sun, as they did before. For a woman to do that in Gilead would be considered grossly immodest. She recalls her college days with Moira, and reflects on how they ignored the growing violence against women that was taking place before the Republic of Gilead was formed. She watches from her window as the Commander comes out of the house and walks to his car. Nick drives him off somewhere. Offred does not know what she feels about the commander. She knows she ought to hate him, but she does not.
Offred reports that the day before, she was taken by a Guardian for her regular, once a month, visit to the doctor. She is required to do this. As she is being examined, the doctor says he can help her. Her job is to get pregnant, and since this is not happening, the doctor offers to impregnate her himself. He says that no one will know the baby is not the Commander's. He seems sympathetic to her, but she refuses, saying it is too dangerous. The penalty is death, although for a conviction they would have to be caught in the act, with two witnesses. She is nervous though, because she knows the doctor has power over her. He could report her, and she might be shipped off to the Colonies.
Offred takes a bath. She remembers her young daughter, who at eleven months was stolen by a woman in a supermarket. The baby was recovered and the police came. Offred's memories of her daughter are becoming increasingly hazy. She cannot keep her in mind so often now. The girl must now be eight years old. Offred thinks the authorities must have told her that her mother was dead.
Cora brings Offred supper in her room. The food is reasonably good, since Handmaids must be kept healthy. She is not hungry, but she has to eat it. Otherwise, Cora might report her. She hides a pat of butter in a shoe in the closet, and plans to use it later that night.
These chapters suggest Offred's first attempts to create links for herself to a more normal reality rather than the dreary, isolated, enslaved life she is being forced to lead. For example, she thinks the inscription Nolite te bastardes carborumdorum that she does not understand was deliberately left for her by the previous occupant of the room. She thinks it was an attempt at communication, and this pleases her because as a Handmaid she has no normal relationships at all. No one is on her side except, as Offred dares to hope, this cryptic voice from the past. There is little in the household that passes for normal communications. Rita, for example, is suspicious of Offred and treats her like a child. A sign of Offred's isolation is that she must eat her meals alone in her room. She is valued not as a human being but only because of her ability to produce children.
Offred's saving of the pat of butter is also significant because it is one small act of defiance of the regime. She will soon be taking much bigger risks.


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