Little Acts of Vengeance

“Then I find I’m not ashamed at all. I enjoy the power; power of a dog bone, passive but there. I hope they get hard at the sight of us and have to rub themselves against the painted barriers, surreptitiously. They will suffer, later, at night, in their regimented beds. They have no outlets now except themselves, and that’s a sacrilege. There are no more magazines, no more films, no more substitutes; only me and my shadow, walking away from the two men, who stand at attention, stiffly, by a roadblock, watching our retreating shapes.” (40)

In this passage, the anger and resentment that lies beneath the surface in Offred is brought to the forefront, as she engages in what would be considered scandalous behavior and justifies it. Offred’s candid diction and angered tone help readers understand the resentment she feels toward her situation, which seem to foreshadow a larger rebellion taking place within her.

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Offred begins by saying “I’m not ashamed at all,” showing her blatant lack of remorse at flirting with the guards who are similarly a product of the society they live in and are in charge of opening the gates to the place she considers hell. What is surprising is Offred acknowledges her “power” in this situation, which she normally lacks in this society, where she only possesses a “freedom from” but not a “freedom to.” Normally not being in control of her life seems to have enabled her to recognize the situations in which she does have some power, especially concerning people socially ranked below her, such as the guards. Thus, it is interesting that she says, “I enjoy the power” and uses the metaphor of a dog bone to describe the way in which she reels in the guards by their sexual desires.

As readers, we get a sense of Offred’s anger and resentment toward her situation as she describes her desire of watching the guards suffer. She says, “They have no outlet now besides themselves, which is a sacrilege.” Offred recognizes not only the power she holds, but she chooses to use this power to make those around her suffer. This latter part is the one in which we as readers are enlightened to her absolute hatred and loath towards her situation and her desire to take vengeance in the smallest way possible, even if it is by engaging the sexual desires of those she is forbidden to interact with. Offred’s tone thus points to her rebellious nature and seems to shadow an uprising she may lead later on in the novel. This seems to become evident in her reference to herself as a “retreating shape,” or one that is gone for now but will come back later to strike.

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2 thoughts on “Little Acts of Vengeance

  1. Hi Snigdha,

    I thought that your identification of the larger purpose behind Offred’s anger and resentment was very intriguing. At least in this scene, we see Offred, despite being of a lower social rank, reacting against society. Her act of rebellion—she deliberately taunts the sexually-frustrated guards with her body, and revels in this action through her thoughts—is the one way she has power “to make those around her suffer.”

    Oftentimes, we expect the main character of a story to be morally upright and righteous, but Offred complicates that assumption. However, Offred’s “absolute hatred and loath towards her situation and her desire to take vengeance in the smallest way possible” are natural, humanistic responses, making her a more relatable and sympathetic character.

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  2. Snigdha,

    I appreciated your identification of Offred’s subtle anger at the situation, which I had previously not noticed before. Although Offred has had no previous personal contact with the guards (to our knowledge) she seems to resent how they ensure the continuation of the way Gilead currently functions. As this is one of the first clues to the reader that Offred is unhappy with her status, I think that the situation in which she engages in this slight rebellion is telling of her character.

    A large part of the novel is devoted to female sexuality. Offred herself has been relegated solely to her body’s reproductive functions. By sexually taunting the Gilead officials, Offred is embracing her sexuality, utilizing it to commit a small act of rebellion. However, in doing so, Offred is unable to escape the notion which has been placed on her: that her functions are exclusively sexual. She is able to moderately rebel, but within the restrictions that have been placed on her, unable to fully break free.

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