This chapter develops the motif of the body and dreams. 

Close analysis: “I sink down into…” (p83 or 85 in some editions) to the end of the chapter.

How does Offred consider her body in her present circumstances?

  • A walking womb – ‘I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object’ (86). It defines her and her purpose; therefore it defines her identity. As she states, others’ expectations for her become her own expectations too – and when her period comes, it is a symbol of her failure.
  • She describes her body as ‘treacherous land, my own territory.’ (86) – it can betray her – cannot be trusted. Links to the idea of surveillance but also losing control.
  • ‘now the flesh arranges itself differently’ (86) – she is not in control anymore. Her body is her; She is her body.
  • Uses the metaphor of the ‘moon’ every month (changing cycles, fertility, femininity). This extends to seeing a ‘famine’ coming – gives a sense of her utter despair and hopelessness.
  • ‘Inside it is a space, huge as the sky at night and dark and curved like that’ (86). The vastness of the space is suggestive of Offred’s despair – a kind of nothingness. It is empty and isolated, but even something as personal as her womb (rights to her body) is taken away and used to control her. It is a barren space (perhaps double entendre linking to fertility?).
  • Has to find the strength within her (shows the role of memories), which links to Suthism – but also with the womb as something inside her.
  • Offred’s sense of self feels separate from her physical body (disassociation in the bath, ceremonies – even ‘Night’ where she remembers her past) – she is trapped in the ‘swamp’ of her body. She cannot escape, and it can, therefore, be used to control her.
  • Links back to the scene of Offred in the bath (75) where she remembers her daughter and her husband (the juxtaposition of previous life)

What role do dreams & memory play in the narrative?

  • the juxtaposition of what Offred’s body used to mean: It used to be an instrument that was means to an end (perhaps to make us think about our own bodies; Atwood referring to the fear of removing birth control/birth rights in the 80s)
  • Gives Offred hope – she states that she wants to live for her daughter
  • A form of solitary confinement – the only moments of reprieve are when she is alone with her memories during the ‘Night’ sections. But she can not give in to her memories, or she will lose faith.
  • She gives herself glimpses of her past (to fuel her desire to survive) but not to think about it too much (which would be utterly despairing). Perhaps this is what happened to her double (the previous Handmaid)