“Can I be blamed for wanting a real body, to put my arms around? Without it I am too disembodied. […] I too am dry and white, hard, granular; it’s like running my hand over a plateful of dried rice; it’s like snow. There’s something dead about it, something deserted. I am like a room where things once happened and now nothing does, except the pollen of the weeds that grow up outside the window, blowing in as dust across the floor.”(128)
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale explores the consequences of society where fertility is limited and gender roles are exaggerated as a result. This passage occurs later at night of the same day of Offred and the Commander’s routine interaction, and Offred lies in bed thinking and contemplating about her blissful time in the company of Luke. Now, she is overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness and longing for real, genuine human contact. Through the first person point-of-view, continual references to death, and the similes comparing Offred herself to objects, Atwood indicates how Offred’s mind and body are separate entities where only her body is valued, and suggests that this dehumanization is attributed to the detrimental societal constructs of the totalitarian society.
As we discussed in class, the majority of this novel is narrated in first person point-of-view, allowing Offred’s experiences in this society as a handmaid to represent the experiences of all the handmaids. Thus, all the handmaids are likely to feel the same detachment from their bodies, presumably because their value is so often attributed to their uterus, and their body as a baby-making machine—which the totalitarian government dictated for them. This reveals the dehumanizing nature of the society towards handmaids, and also towards other classes in the hierarchy.
While contemplating the concept of real human contact that seems to be nonexistent in this society, Offred poses a rhetorical question, asking if this urge for human contact is something worthy of blame. In today’s society, it is completely normal to have this urge; however, in this future society, handmaids are conditioned to resist these natural urges. By asking this question, the narrator allows the reader to empathize with her and recognize how hard it must be for the narrator to not have any real people “to put [her] arms around”. Furthermore, the use of the word “disembodied” implies that without this lack of human interaction, Offred’s soul and mind are separated from her body. This separation is a result of her physical demands not being met, leaving only her emotions.
Following those phrases, Offred compares herself to a “plateful of dried rice” and “snow” that is “dead” and “deserted”. Rice that has been left out for a while becomes dry, and Offred feels like her body has done that, just been left out without anyone paying attention to it. Furthermore, “rice” is an object, and by comparing herself to an object, she objectifies herself—conditioned by the society to do so. The totalitarian society has stripped her of value of her mind, leaving only a body which dehumanizes her. These words also create
an eerie tone with all the references to desolation and death, relating to the eerie nature of this society. Finally, Offred compares herself to a room where nothing grows and only the “pollen of the weeds” blow “as dust across the floor”. Again, she compares herself to an object, dehumanizing her. It is depressing to see how something once lively now has no signs of life, because what Offred is doing is not living, it is just existing to serve her one purpose. There are only weeds growing because weeds are irrelevant and useless—symbolizing the irrelevant, superficial human interactions Offred has each day.