Moira had power now, she’d been set loose, she’d set herself loose. She was now a loose woman… Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us dizzy. Already we were losing the taste for freedom, already we were finding these walls secure. In the upper reaches of the atmosphere you’d’ come apart, you’d vaporize, there would be no pressure holding you together. (Atwood 133)
In this passage, Offred recalls Moira’s escape from the Red Center. The contrasting descriptions of Moira and the other Handmaids at the Red Center, revealed through similes and ambiguous diction, exposes human susceptibility to indoctrination due to the multifaceted, fleeting nature of freedom of thought.
The use of ambiguous diction in the word “loose” reveals that a lack of clear definition creates an environment in which it is easy to succumb to a source of structure and rigidity. The repetition of “loose” emphasizes the freedom that Moira has acquired through her escape, but also illuminates the multiple meanings that the word takes on in Offred’s thoughts. The phrase “set loose” compares Moira to a wild, untamed animal that is released from its captor, dehumanizing her into a creature that acts instinctually and without reason. In Offred’s mind, power has transformed into something uncontrolled and dangerous; by exaggerating the harmful instances of humanity, the society in The Handmaid’s Tale takes advantage of fear to control women.
Rather than praising Moira for her freedom, Offred categorizes Moira as a “loose woman,” implying that a woman with freedom must also be promiscuous and unchaste, further revealing the prejudiced attitude toward woman that is adopted by the novel’s dystopian society and instilled on the Handmaids.
The simile comparing Moira to “an elevator with open sides” implies that Moira’s freedom gives her the ability to raise her living standards. However, this becomes twisted in the Handmaid’s mind as they can only focus on the dizzying nature of Moira’s freedom, her “open sides,” because they feel unstable and out of balance. The fact that the Handmaids are losing their “taste” for freedom reveals the idea that they have become numbed to any sensation due to the indoctrination at the Red Center. Without any exposure to freedom, the Handmaids have forgotten its value and thus are satisfied with their new rigid and structured lifestyle.
The simile of the elevator contrasts with Offred’s description of the Handmaids when she states “you’d vaporize.” By switching to second person, Offred generalizes her description to an unspecified audience, revealing the pervasiveness of the regime’s brainwashing. While Moira is able to remain whole as one entity, the Handmaids have become so accustomed to their strict lifestyle that they believe they would “vaporize” and disappear if given access to freedom. The women have become reliant on the “pressure” exerted by the society in order to continue functioning as a complete being.