Returning to a Child

I fold back the sheet, get carefully up, on silent bare feet, in my nightgown, go to the window, like a child, I want to see. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow. The sky is clear but hard to make out, because of the searchlight; but yes, in the obscured sky a moon does float, a newly, a wishing moon, a silver of ancient rock, a goddess, a wink. The moon is a stone and the sky is full of deadly hardware, but oh God, how beautiful anyway. (Atwood 97)

In The Handmaid’s Tale, women are no more than reproductive machines and only viewed as substitutable properties of the Commander. However, through this passage, the readers can know more about the inner self of Offred and her deep cravings. Through portraying Offred’s actions and the view she sees from her perspective, this passage sheds more light on Offred’s psychological status and the derived desires which are unfortunately suppressed by the society, and it leads to a better understanding of the narration style of the novel and the humanization of the handmaids.

Firstly, the depiction of Offred’s actions suggests her return to a more original, child-like mental stage. In the first sentence, Offred employs short, repetitive structure and simple verbal use which resembles the talking of a young kid. She expresses her thoughts plainly and directly: “I want to see.” Offred thinks like a child and therefore she talks like a child, without cautiousness she presents when talking with Serena or the Marthas. Moreover, the actions “fold back the sheet, get carefully up, on silent bare feet” imply more about Offred’s retrogression. The sheet symbolizes the chain the society of Gilead imposed on her: she is caged and fed in this room, and she even has a bathing schedule like an animal does. Everything in this room is a restraint, and as she goes “bare feet” and looks out of the window, she is casting the superficial limitations way, facing who she really is and what she really wants.

And how Offred sees the view “as a child” reveals more on the two questions above, and the readers can reach the deepest part of her heart through these lines. The image of the moon has been presented to the readers before, as in chapter 13 when Offred describes how she is totally determined by her uterus: “every month there is a moon, gigantic, round, heavy, an omen.” The round moon signifies the failure of conception and the despair following it, and the new moon here must stand for the opposite – it is “a wishing moon,” a moon that brings her hope, which “does float” in spite of the obscured sky; it is the moon that brings the beauty of the world and shows her the bright side even though it is actually lifeless and cold, which she refers to as a “deadly hardware.” More importantly, the metaphor of “a wink” corresponds to the wink that Nicks gave her on the driveway of the Commander’s house. The shape of the moon reminds her of the attention she gets as a real, living being, and it is an indication of the fact that she craves love from others as much as she craves hope and beauty. This explains why Offred always has flashbacks from the past: her mother, her daughter, Luke, and Moira satisfy her needs for love and care, which are nonexistent in her new life. She wants to be a child, and she wants to be loved, nurtured and protected. She wants to escape from all the coldness, the worrying in life and she needs hope as every human being does. Offred has to partially live in the past to meet those human needs, and this is the main reason why these characters are making such frequent appearances even though they are not a part of her new life of being a machine and a property of the Commander.

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One thought on “Returning to a Child

  1. Hi Chenlin,

    I think your thoughts about how Offred would like to “return to a more original, child-like mental stage” is quite interesting. Childhood is often associated with innocence and this innocence can often be freeing. She wants to break free from her restraints and live life “without cautiousness she presents when talking with” other members of her current society. This novel constantly revolves around the subject of children: Offred’s utility in society is her ability to produce children and she also desires to go back in time to when she was a child. This is significant because as a child you are given attention and the care of others, something that Offred, as well as other members of society such as the Commander, desperately want. You aptly stated the love she craves when you said, “she wants to be loved, nurtured, and protected.” This return to childhood highlights her desire for freedom, reverting to ‘freedom to’ instead of ‘freedom from’.

    Like

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