“I move the eggcup a little, so it’s now in the watery sunlight that comes through the window and falls, brightening, waning, brightening again, on the tray. The shell of the egg is smooth but also grained; small pebbles of calcium are defined by the sunlight, like craters on the moon. It’s a barren landscape, yet perfect; it’s the sort of desert the saints went into, so their minds must not be distracted by profusion […] The egg is glowing now, as if it had an energy of its own. To look at the egg gives me intense pleasure. The sun goes and the egg fades” (Atwood 110).
Throughout this passage, Offred is fixated on a single egg, a seemingly innocuous object that is meant to represent herself. With the use of diction, syntax, parallel structure, and symbolism, Offred reveals the duality that exists within herself—whether or not to conform to society— in order to implicate the societal doctrines that oppress women.
Offred’s slight moving of the egg into “the watery sunlight” demonstrates that Offred has the ability to “move” and react against the current society. But as an egg, Offred’s life is fragile, easily crushed or overshadowed. Furthermore, “the watery sunlight that comes through the window and falls, brightening, waning, brightening again” reflects her hesitation and apprehension as to how others will respond. Rather than provide a warm and constant light, which would give Offred stability and support, the sun is unable to offer anything more than “watery sunlight.” The diction of “watery” lends a sense of mutability and lack of substance.
The parallel structure of “brightening, waning, brightening again” further develops the control society wields over Offred, who is a Handmaid. The lack of the sunlight’s constancy reveals her paradoxical role (she is simultaneously important and not important): In the context of this passage, the “watery sunlight” will brighten if a Offred becomes pregnant and eventually gives birth. However, if she fails to deliver a child in a specific amount of time, the “watery sunlight” will wane and Offred will be discarded. The presence of this “watery sunlight” manipulates her into thinking she has a purpose in life. But because her value is solely determined by her ability to “breed” and produce, Offred cannot fully develop and express her own sense of identity. The value of her life (represented by the “small pebbles of calcium”) is “defined by the sunlight.” Offred notes that the “small pebbles” are like “craters on the moon,” a comparison that reflects how she, as a Handmaid, is only valuable when society says she is.
Offred does seems to express appreciation for individualism—she notes that the egg’s surface is “smooth, but also grained […] It’s a barren landscape, yet perfect.” The grains reflect Offred’s past life and experiences, as well as her own thoughts. Although the landscape is barren, as Offred is not allowed to actually express herself, it is perfect because her individual thoughts still exist. Nevertheless, she reverts back to the societal expectation of women to be pristine and untouched when she says that “it’s the sort of desert the saints went into, so their minds must not be distracted by profusion.” Any “profusion” that a man or “saint” experiences is automatically blamed on women (similar to how in this society, no man is sterile. It is only the women who are infertile.)
Offred’s pondering of society’s shortcomings causes the egg to glow, “as if it had an energy of its own”; this glowing demonstrates the potential Offred has to rebel against society and find stability for herself, and it is something that gives her “intense pleasure.” But ultimately, the “sun goes and the egg fades.” The short, abrupt syntax is a warning to Offred that society controls the “sun,” and ultimately holds the power to rob her of her stability.