Michael Ilcyn The experience of living in the world of Gillead with all its restrictions and procedures on love and family upbringing already brings about reconstruction on the society we live and know today. Throughout the story, however, old traditions are secretly brought back, further reconstructing this world in order for it to last. In Chapters 23-26, we start to see how the roles of men and women are continuing to be reconstructed, as rules are broken between Serena, Offred, Nick and the Commander.
In Gillead, handmaids are brought to each household where a woman is incapable of conceiving a child. The family goes through a ritual where bible passages are read, and the handmaid has relations with the man of the house while the wife stands behind her, holding her hands as a symbol of unity. Relations between the husband and the handmaid are impersonal and intended only for procreation, as passion has become a thing of the past.
Offred, however, has not yet become pregnant throughout these rituals, and something must be done to move the process along. In Chapter 23 we read about Offred’s secret meetings with the commander in his study, where they talk, read books and magazines, and play scrabble (something forbidden as women are outlawed from reading). Things between the Commander and Offred start to get more impersonal as the Commander asks Offred to “Kiss him like she means it” at the end of one of their meetings.
This brings us to Offred and the Commander’s first indication of reconstruction in bringing about familiarity toward their “business-like” relationship. Each month, the handmaids are to go to the doctors for health examinations to make sure that they are prepared if they were to get pregnant. During one such visit, the doctor comments to Offred that the Commander may be inadequate for consummating. While against the rules, the doctor offers to have relations with Offred and cast the baby off to Serena and the Commander.
Offred refuses as this seems to be yet another small example of reconstruction in bending of the rules in order to bring about expected results. We find out that Offred is not the only person that the doctor has offered service to. We also see this as the commander introduces Offred to his friend Nick. Offred also starts meeting with Nick and connecting with him. Serena, the Commander’s wife, also realizes that the Commander could be at fault for the inability to become pregnant. Serena suggests that Offred tries Nick and to pass the baby off.
Offred’s relationships with each of these men start to resemble more of a courting relationship, as more secrets are kept about the meetings themselves and what goes on. Offred’s relationship with Serena is also risky as any false move can put her into trouble with government. While there are many examples of reconstruction throughout the story “A Handmaids Tale”, the roles of men and women and how they change throughout the book seem to be the most apparent. As a result, it shows us how an overly controlled world only leads to destruction in the end.
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