By Atwood Margaret
By Atwood Margaret
The Handmaid’s Tale was written in 1986. It’s author, Margaret Atwood, was born in Ottawa but has since traveled all over and lived in many other cities including London, Montreal, and Boston. She began writing The Handmaid’s Tale while living in West Berlin, and finished it in Alabama. Atwood is the author of over twenty books of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. She is the winner of multiple honors and awards and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times.
Atwood was a recipient of the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke award for The Handmaid’s Tale in 1987. The Handmaid’s Tale is a work of science fiction that ponders what our society might be like if the United States was changed into a radical theocracy. It explores issues such as feminism and conservatism, religious extremism, political dissidence, and warfare. The novel challenges its readers to think through their own societal assumptions and explore both the consequences and alternatives of their own social realities.
The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a female handmaid in the country of Gilead. In this science fiction account, Gilead is a theocracy that has formed sometime in the late twentieth-century out of what was previously the United States.
The story takes place in the early transition years of the regime. Although radically different from its political predecessor, the state of Gilead is still in a transitory period—its citizens, who take on very specific roles in society, can still remember what things were like in the “time before.”
The narrator of the novel goes by Offred, but has another name from her previous life, which she never reveals to the reader. Her role in Gilead is that of a Handmaid, a woman who serves in an elite family for reproductive purposes. A Handmaid must dress all in red and participate in monthly reproduction “ceremonies” with her Commander in the presence of the Commander’s wife. The ultimate goal is for the Handmaid to conceive a child that will be raised by the Commander and his Wife.
Offred tells her story in fragments, as her mind goes through various memories of her past life before Gilead. Her memories focus primarily on her mother, her best friend Moira, her husband Luke, and her daughter. It is eventually revealed that she was separated from Luke and her daughter during a failed escape attempt at the Canadian border. Offred does not know what happened to them, or whether they are alive. As part of her duties, Offred goes shopping every day with another Handmaid: Ofglen. After several weeks, they eventually discover that both are Nonbelievers. Ofglen is a part of a resistance network that uses the code word Mayday.
One night, Offred’s Commander summons her to his office. He doesn’t ask for sex; rather, they play Scrabble (although reading is forbidden for women) and he asks Offred for a kiss goodnight. These secret meetings continue until eventually the Commander takes Offred out to a club called Jezebel’s, where Commanders go to meet with prostitutes. There, Offred sees Moira for the first time since they were in training to be Handmaids together. Moira escaped the Red Center, but was eventually recaptured and sent to Jezebel’s.
Around the same time, the Commander’s Wife, Serena Joy, makes a deal with Offred. She wants Offred to sleep with the chauffer Nick in order to increase her chances of conceiving a baby. Offred consents, but then continues to see Nick on her own. She feels guilty about these meetings, considering her lust to be a betrayal of Luke. Offred and Ofglen attend a salvaging, or a public execution.
That same day, Ofglen does not appear at her normal spot to go shopping. Instead, a new Handmaid takes her place. She tells Offred that the resistance movement was discovered; Ofglen hanged herself before the government could take her away.
Back at the house, Serena Joy has discovered about Offred’s secret meetings with the Commander. A black government van comes to take Offred away, but Nick tells her that the officials are actually members of the resistance and that she is safe. Offred isn’t sure whether to believe Nick, but she goes anyway. The novel concludes with a fictional account of historical notes, given by a professor some 200 years later. The professor gives more detail about Gileadean society, and ponders what parts of The Handmaid’s Tale match up with true historical events.
In Gilead, men and women revert back to traditional gender roles, with the man as caretaker and provider, and the woman as mother and guardian of the home. Women are not allowed to read, hold jobs, or own property. Additionally, social ceremonies and events are segregated between men and women. Offred mentions that when she first lost her job and access to money, she could feel an immediate power shift between her and her husband Luke.
Much of Gileadean society focuses on the importance of reproduction. Abortion and birth control methods of the previous civilization have been banned, as has any medicine during labor. Handmaids are given to elite families without children to serve as surrogate mothers. The emphasis here is on reproduction as the ultimate goal of sexual relations, rather than pleasure. The desire for a child drives many families to go to extreme lengths.
The novel incorporates many feminist theories and frequently refers to feminist characters: Offred’s mother and best friend Moira are both staunch feminists. Even the society of Gilead, which in many ways can be seen as reactionary to the feminist movement, is very female-focused in some regards. Aunt Lydia claims they are building a united female society where women can live free from fear of rape or harm. In such a way, The Handmaid’s Tale questions the premises of feminism by exploring its alternative trajectory.
Language is used as a tool of power in Gilead. Only men are allowed to read and obtain knowledge, whereas women are forbidden from such devices. Handmaids are also rarely allowed to talk to or interact with others. However, Offred often discusses the limitations of language as well. She feels her explanations are inadequate to describe her experiences and memories, and that much is lost through her reconstructions.
Religious overtones are present throughout Gilead. Prayer is crucial to the society, and the Handmaid practice is based on the biblical account of Rachel and Leah. There are also references to Baptist Guerillas and Quaker Heretics, indicating that the ongoing wars have religious grounding as well. Belief and faith are used as justification for many of the more brutal practices in the society.
In many ways, Gilead may be read as a dystopian society. The country was founded on a premise of utopia, but in actuality is repressive and controlling. The story demonstrates what happens when utopian ideals are taken to the extreme. In an effort to make the world a better place, the Commanders have inadvertently made it worse.
Offred frequently contemplates the physical needs of the body. She has come to be defined only by her reproductive ability, but in the past her body meant much more freedom. Offred recognizes her own desire for sexual contact and intimacy, and that her body craves certain interactions that are forbidden in society.
Power dynamics and political control are a constant theme in The Handmaid’s Tale. Those in power try to control the news and dissenting opinions, but resistance networks still manage to form. In some ways, The Handmaid’s Tale is about rebellion and resistance. No matter the risk, there are always people who are willing to go against the grain and fight for political freedom.
Gilead runs on the basis of Conformity, especially for the women. Each person has a specific function, and each group such as Handmaids, Econowives, Wives, and Marthas have a required uniform. The individual is not valued in this society; it is only the group that matters. Conformity is also linked with obedience: the more alike the citizens are, the easier they are to contain.
Although Gileadean society tries to restrict how people behave, ultimately they fall back into their old habits. Offred cannot help but to be sexually attracted to Nick, even though she still loves Luke. Even the Commander, who was one of the men responsible for the institution of Gilead’s policies, still meets with Offred in secret and offers her the opportunity to engage in forbidden acts such as reading. People are drawn to transgression, and ultimately human nature wins out over constructed order.
The narrator of the story, Offred is a Handmaid in the household of a high-ranking Commander. She has another name from her previous life, but she never shares this information with the reader. Offred describes her experiences as a Handmaid, her yearning for the past and her loved ones, and the oppression of the new regime.
Luke is Offred’s husband, who was separated from her during a failed escape attempt. Although he never makes an appearance in the story and we never discover what happened to him, he is always at the forefront of Offred’s thoughts and memory.
Offred’s best friend from the time before. A feminist and lesbian, Moira is spirited and courageous. She manages to escape the Red Center where she and Offred are being trained to be Handmaids, but she is later caught and forced to be a prostitute at Jezebel’s.
Like Luke, these characters are from Offred’s past, though they frequently pay visits to Offred in her memories and dreams. Offred eventually discovers that her mother was sent to a Colony to clean toxic waste, while her daughter was given away for an elite family to raise.
A Guardian in the Commander’s household, Nick often breaks protocol by winking or smiling at Offred. They eventually engage in a sexual relationship, first under Serena Joy’s watch, and then on their own.
Janine was with Offred at the Red Center, though they never got along. She became Ofwarren when she became an official Handmaid and gave birth to a girl named Angela, although the baby was named an Unbaby and did not survive.
Ofglen is Offred’s shopping partner, since Handmaids are only allowed to walk around town in pairs. She is also a part of the resistance movement and brings Offred news and information.
The Commander is the head of the household. He begins seeing Offred in private and gives her access to forbidden objects such as magazines and books. Offred’s relationship with the commander is complicated; in some ways, he is her oppressor, but she finds herself unable to hate him.
Formerly a singer on a religious television show geared for children, Serena Joy is the Commander’s Wife. She dislikes Offred but eventually convinces Offred to sleep with Nick to increase her chances of having a baby.
The Marthas, or maids, of the household. Rita does most of the cooking, whereas Cora does most of the cleaning and chores.
The first section begins with a description of the Red Center, which had been a high school gymnasium in the time before. Although no longer used for that function, the room still contains some hints of its former life—it smells of sweat, perfume, and chewing gum, and retains the lingering forms of sex, loneliness, and expectation. The narrator, who is later known to us by the name Offred, remembers the feeling of yearning in high school.
She and the women who sleep in the gymnasium yearn for the future as well. They sleep with army-issued blankets that still have the old name—U.S.—on them. Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrol at night with electric cattle prods, but no guns. Even the Aunts cannot be trusted with guns. Those are only for guards, who patrol the building but are not allowed inside. These guards—called Angels—stand outside with their backs to the building. The women learn to whisper at night without sound and to read lips. It is in this way that they are able to exchange their names: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.
Part II begins with Offred’s careful examination of her new room. She notes that they have removed anything to which you could tie a rope, and that the picture frame on the wall contains no glass. Apart from these telling details, the room could be mistaken for a college guest room. She thinks of how Aunt Lydia told her that her situation is not a prison but a privilege. The bell rings, and Offred leaves her room. She wears red gloves and a long red dress. Her face is framed by a red veil and white wings of cloth. This outfit is a government issue, and everyone like her must wear it.
Offred wanders down the hall and stops in the kitchen. Rita is there, wearing a dull green dress, which is the uniform for Marthas. Frowning, she gives Offred some tokens for shopping. Offred knows that Rita disapproves of the dress and what it stands for; she’s heard Rita talking to Cora when they thought she wasn’t around. Rita said she wouldn’t debase herself like that, but Cora said that Handmaids had no other choice—it was either that or going to the Colonies with the Unwomen. In the kitchen, Offred thinks how she wishes Rita would talk with her or exchange gossip. At least it would be an interaction. Instead, all Rita does is give instructions for shopping.
Offred goes out the back door into the garden, which is the Commander’s Wife’s domain. She is often out there sitting or clipping flowers with her shears, but she isn’t there now. Offred doesn’t like to come across the Commander’s Wife, nor does she think the Commander’s Wife likes her. They first met five weeks earlier, when Offred arrived at this posting. A Guardian accompanied Offred to the door, but the Wife quickly dismissed him, making Offred carry her bag in by herself.
The Wife had a cigarette, which she must have gotten off the black market. She explained to Offred that she wanted to see her as little as possible, and that as far as she was concerned, their situation was a business transaction. Offred realized as they were talking that she recognized the Commander’s Wife from a television show she used to see when she was a child. In the show, the Commander’s Wife, whose name is Serena Joy, used to sing hymns and tell Bible stories to children.
Offred continues outside, where a Guardian is washing the Commander’s car, which is quite expensive. The Guardian’s name is Nick, and he lives above the garage. He sees Offred looking and winks. She drops her head and turns away, because the interaction was forbidden. She wonders whether Nick was just being friendly or whether perhaps he is an Eye and was testing her response. She goes out the front gate and meets another Handmaid at the corner, also all in red. They are only allowed to travel in pairs. This woman, Ofglen, has been Offred’s partner for two weeks. They cross a Guardian checkpoint. Checkpoints can be dangerous because jumpy Guardians have killed innocent people before, but the pair gets through okay.
The city square is the heart of Gilead, and Offred and Luke used to walk there, in the time before, back when there were doctors and lawyers and professors. She and Ofglen walk around and see other pairs of women in red.
There are also Marthas in green and Econowives in skimpy, striped dresses. Econowives are the wives of poorer men, who can’t afford Marthas and Handmaids. Ofglen and Offred pick up food at several stores, which used to be movie theaters or salons before. Now the stores only have pictures on the front, since reading is forbidden.
They run into another handmaid, who is very pregnant. They are jealous and think her a showoff. The handmaid’s name is Ofwarren but Offred recognizes her as a woman who was at the Red Center with her. Back then, her name was still Janine, and Offred never liked her much.
On the way back, the women take a roundabout route. They stop by a church, but what they have really come to see is the Wall. The Wall surrounds what once was a university, but what has now become a prison of sorts. Three men are hanging from the Wall. They wear white coats and must have been doctors in the time before. They performed abortions and have now been executed, even though at the time their actions were legal. Offred feels some relief, because none of the men hanging are Luke.
The night is a time for Offred alone. She can do whatever she wants, as long as she lies still. It is her time out, to retreat into her own thoughts. Offred decides to go somewhere good—she thinks of her friend Moira, sitting on her bed in college. Moira smokes a cigarette and tries to convince Offred to go out, even though she has a paper to write.
Next Offred thinks of being in a park with her mother. Once her mother took her to the park to feed ducks, but they were really there to meet up with her mother’s friends. They dumped magazines into a big bonfire, and Offred realized they were porn magazines.
Offred tries to think what happens next, but she isn’t sure. She thinks maybe she has lost some time, and that there were drugs and pills involved. She can remember screaming Where is she? What have you done with her? They showed her a picture of the girl, and explained that Offred was unfit to keep her, but she was in good hands.
Offred would like to believe the story she is telling, but she is not even sure it is a story. If it is a story, then she can control the ending. She is also telling the story rather than writing it, since writing is forbidden. She reasons she must be telling a story to someone, since you don’t tell a story to yourself alone. There’s always someone else, even when there’s not. She likens her story to a letter and pretends there is a you she is telling it to.
The next time they go shopping, Offred and Ofglen stop by the wall again. This time two Guardians are hanging; they have been charged with Gender Treachery and must have been caught together. Ofglen says they should go back, and mentions that it is a beautiful May day. Offred recalls that Mayday used to be a distress signal a long time ago, and she and Luke once discussed the word while reading the newspaper and drinking coffee on a Sunday morning. Offred and Ofglen also pass a funeral for a baby that was not carried to term.
When she reaches the house, Offred sees Nick, who whistles as she passes. He asks her about the walk, but she doesn’t answer. Serena Joy is out in the garden, and Offred remembers that in the time before she used to give speeches about how women should stay home. She looks tired and Offred wonders how she feels, now that her speeches have become reality.
At the Red Center, Aunt Lydia told the Handmaids that it was not the Commanders but their Wives that they had to watch out for. She said that the Handmaids must try to pity them, that women are defeated because they have been unable to have children. Inside, Offred stops in the kitchen then continues to her room. The Commander is right outside. He acknowledges her with a nod, violating custom.
Someone has lived in her room before Offred. She knows this because she explored the room when she first arrived and found, carved into the cupboard, the words Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Offred does not know what the words mean, but it pleases her to ponder the woman who lived in the room before. In her head, Offred turns the woman into Moira. She asks Rita about the woman before, and is able to deduce that she was lively and had freckles, just like Moira. But when she asks what happened she is met with silence.
It’s warm for the time of year, but not yet warm enough for the Handmaids to be allowed their summer dresses, which are cotton rather than synthetic. Aunt Lydia talked of how disgraceful it used to be in the time before, when women displayed their legs and bodies publically. She then thinks of Moira, who once threw an “underwhore” party, which was similar to a Tupperware party except with lingerie. Offred is shocked that they lived so freely then, but at the time it was just the usual. Whatever is happening is always considered the usual at the time.
Offred is taken to a doctor. She goes every month to ensure she is healthy and able to reproduce. In the examination room, a sheet hangs from the ceiling so that the doctor cannot see her face. The doctor does the pelvic examination, and then offers, discretely, to help her. He says many of the Commanders are sterile, which is a forbidden word. In Gilead, the official stance is that there is no such thing as sterile men, only barren women. Offred considers the offer—she wants to have a child. But the risk is too high—if they were caught, it would mean the death penalty. The doctor tells her to think about it for next month.
The next day, Offred takes a bath, which is a requirement but also a luxury. While in the tub, she thinks of her daughter as a baby. Her daughter comes back to her at different ages, and this is how she knows she is not really a ghost. If she were a ghost, she would always be the same age. The image of her daughter fades—she never stays for long. Eventually Cora tells her to hurry up in the bath. Later, she brings Offred healthy foods for dinner on a tray. Offred is supposed to eat everything, but she hides away some butter inside her shoe for use later.
There is time to spare, so Offred takes a nap. These periods of spare time are not something Offred prepared for. She is not allowed embroidery or anything to occupy the time, and is instead left only to her own thoughts and boredom. She thinks of art galleries with pictures of harems in the nineteenth century—naked women lying around with a eunuch standing guard in the background. The pictures were supposed to be erotic, but now Offred realizes that what they were really about was boredom and waiting.
Washed and fed, Offred feels like a prized pig as she waits. In the eighties, pigs were given colored balls to roll with their snouts. The marketers said this improved their muscle tone, and pigs liked to have something to think about. Offred lies on the braided rug and remembers that Aunt Lydia said she could always practice in her spare time. She lifts her pelvic bone and practices breathing for giving birth. At the Red Center, the women would have a nap period every day. At the time, Offred thought the aunts just wanted a break from teaching, but now she realizes they were preparing the women for these periods of boredom.
Offred had been at the Red Center three weeks when Moira came. Offred recognized her at once, but they didn’t hold eye contact for long because it was unsafe to have known friendships. After several days, they finally were able to arrange a chance to talk by taking bathroom breaks at the same time and speaking through a hole in the stalls. Offred took her break during testifying, when women were supposed to testify their sins as women in the time before. Janine was Aunt Lydia’s favorite because she was the most enthusiastic at testifying.
In her room at the Commander’s house, Offred considers her body’s failings. She used to think of her body as an instrument for pleasure, or a tool for accomplishing her will. Now it feels empty. Every month, her period is a reminder that she has failed in the expectations of others and herself. She remembers finding clothes in her first apartment and wondering if they belonged to Luke’s wife before the divorce. And then she is stuck in another memory. She is running through the woods with her daughter, who is only half awake. Offred gave her a pill so she wouldn’t cry or give anything away. But now they are running, and her daughter is crying and slowing them down. Shots come behind them and Offred pulls her daughter to the ground to protect her. She tries to get her daughter to be quiet, but she’s too young and it’s too late. Offred wakes to the bell, and then Cora’s knocking. The dream about the woods is the worst of all her dreams.
Offred goes to the sitting room and waits for the household to assemble for the Ceremony. Cora and Rita join her, followed by Nick. He stands behind where Offred is kneeling, so close that his boot touches her foot. Serena Joy comes next in one of her nicest blue dresses—the Wives always wear blue. The Commander is late as usual, so Serena Joy turns on the TV and watches the news. Offred knows the new may be old or faked, but it is better than nothing. There are reports about the war—the Angels have taken out a group of Baptist Guerillas and the Eyes have arrested a group of Quakers smuggling resources into Canada.
As she waits for the commander, Offred thinks about her name—her other name, the one she had in the time before. Sometimes she says this name to herself, a hidden treasure. She thinks of the morning she was caught, and of her little girl. Offred told her they were going on a picnic, because she didn’t want her to be scared or accidentally give anything away. She and Luke brought almost nothing with them—only what they would need for a daytrip across the border. They had fake passports and Luke told her not to be nervous and to cheer up. But they were warned not to look too happy either.
The Commander enters the sitting room and takes out a Bible from a locked box. Women cannot read so it is up to the Commander to read to them. He reads the same parts he usually does, about God saying be fruitful and multiply. He also reads about Rachel and Leah, and how Rachel’s handmaid Bilhah was offered to Jacob to have children in Rachel’s stead. This is the same passage that was repeated often at the Red Center. They were played tape recordings of prayers and sections of the Bible during meals. Moira whispered that she was planning to escape by faking sick and getting taken to the hospital.
The Commander stops reading and allows a moment for private prayer. Offred prays the words she read in the cupboard: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. She doesn’t know what these words mean, but they seem right. At the Red Center, Moira managed to go through with her plan, faking sick enough for the hospital. But the Aunts dragged her back in that evening and took her to a room where her feet were tortured as punishment. The Aunts didn’t care what happened to hands and feet, so long as the Handmaids’ reproductive organs stayed viable. The Commander clears his throat, signifying that the time for silent prayer has passed.
During the Ceremony, Offred lies on the Commander’s bed, fully clothed except for her cotton underdrawers. She lies on top of Serena Joy, with her head on Serena Joy’s stomach. The Commander has sex with Offred in this manner, with her leaning against his wife. He is fully clothed except where necessary. There is nothing sexual or arousing about the ceremony for any of the parties involved. It is simply a task that must be performed.
After the ceremony is over, Offred returns to her room, where she rubs the butter she hid from dinner on her face. Handmaids are not allowed lotion because they are considered vanities, so they use butter on their dry skin instead. Offred lies on her bed and thinks of Luke, wanting to be held and valued. She repeats her old name to herself and has the urge to steal something. In the dark, she wanders back to the sitting room. Nick enters the room also. He too is forbidden from being there, so Offred knows he can’t get her in trouble. Suddenly, he kisses her, but they soon separate—it’s too dangerous. Nick tells Offred that he was coming to look for her, that the Commander sent him. The Commander wants to see Offred in his office the following day.
Back in her bed, Offred lays trembling, thinking of how she would lie in bed with Luke when she was pregnant and he would feel her rounded belly. Then, she thinks of lying in bed with Luke and her daughter, who was frightened from a thunderstorm. Offred was not frightened. Offred contemplates that no one ever dies from lack of sex. It is lack of love that kills them. Sometimes she can see the faces of her loved ones hovering over her bed like saints.
There are three things Offred believes about Luke. The first is that he is lying face down in the woods, dead. What is left of him is still there: the bones, the clothes, the work boots. She hopes that at least one of the bullets hit him neatly and quickly through the skull, so that his life ended quickly and without pain.
Offred also believes that Luke is sitting in a prison cell somewhere. He hasn’t shaved for a year, but his hair has been cut short on occasion, to protect form lice. He looks ragged and old and finds it painful to move. He has no shoes and the cold is wet. He is perhaps thinking about her. Does he know she’s alive? Before, Offred never believed in thought transference, but now she does. She believes he can feel her thinking about him.
Offred also believes that Luke was never caught, that he made it across the border to Canada. He found a farmhouse, where Quakers let him in and agreed to smuggle him further inland. He made contact with a resistance movement—Offred is sure there must be a resistance movement, otherwise where would the government of Gilead find the war criminals she see’s on TV? Any day now, she will receive a message from Luke, probably in the most unexpected way from the most unlikely person. He will find a way to help Offred and her daughter escape, and they will be a family again. He will forgive her for everything that is happening to her because he knows it is not her fault.
All three of these versions of Luke cannot be true, and in fact, none of them may be. But though they contradict, Offred believes in all of them.
The next morning Offred sits in a chair eating breakfast and hears sirens. Once, sirens meant an injury, but now they mean a birth. A red van comes to the house to pick Offred up, and she sits in the back with all the other Handmaids, who are all excited. A birthday is a day off and time for celebration, even though not all births are successful. Abortions are forbidden, and women are forced to carry disabled or disfigured babies to term. These babies—called Unbabies—are taken away and killed. Offred learns that it is Ofwarren, formerly Janine, who is giving birth.
The van stops, and all the Handmaids get out. The Wives arrive in a separate van—they are required to be at births as well. Only the Wives stay in a separate room where they get drunk and compliment the Wife who is to keep the child. All of the Handmaids in the district—25 to 30—sit cross-legged in the bedroom with Janine during her labor. While they wait, Offred thinks about the movies Aunt Lydia would show them once a week in the Red Center. They would either be old pornos demonstrating how women were mistreated or “Unwomen documentaries.” These were videos women who renounced their fertility in the time before. In one of these videos, Offred saw her mother marching at a Take Back the Night rally.
Offred’s mother had her at the age of 37, and used to tell her that she was an intentional birth. Her father was never in the picture. Her mother was a feminist and would sometimes tease Luke, calling him a chauvinist pig although he wasn’t really. Offred admired her mother in some ways, but they had a complicated relationship. Offred thought her mother expected too much of her; she wanted Offred to vindicate her life choices, but Offred wanted to be her own person. Now, she wants her mother back and wishes things were back how they were.
Janine gives birth to a healthy girl, and Offred flashbacks to Luke holding her hand as she gave birth to their daughter in the hospital. The Commander’s Wife names the baby Angela—it is the Wives, not the Handmaids, who do the naming. Janine will be allowed to breastfeed for a few months, but then she will be transferred to a new posting. But at the very least, she will never be sent to the Colonies and declared an Unwoman.
Back at the house, Offred lies in bed; because of the birth, she has been excused from all duties for the day. She thinks of the story of what happened to Moira. Moira escaped the Red Center by disassembling the toilet and removing a sharp object from it. She threatened Aunt Elizabeth with the makeshift weapon and tied her up in the basement. She stole Aunt Elizabeth’s clothes and walked out the Red Center via the front gates. None of the guards noticed because they never paid attention to what the Aunts look like. Moira’s escape made the Aunts seem less scary to the other Handmaids in training, and gave them a taste of freedom that they had forgotten about. Offred doesn’t know what happened next, because Moira never reappeared at the Red Center.
Offred explains that everything she says is a reconstruction—it is impossible to say things exactly as they were, because language and memory are not enough to fully encompass experiences. Still, she continues her story. At nine that night she goes to see the Commander, feeling like a schoolgirl at the principal’s office. The Commander’s office is surprisingly normal—it has a desk and bookcases filled with books. The Commander asks Offred to play Scrabble with him, even though he knows women are not allowed to read. After a few games, he excuses Offred, but asks her to kiss him before she goes. This is the real reason he summoned her—he is lonely. She kisses him, but has to repeat the gesture when the Commander tells her to kiss him like she means it.
After her encounter with the Commander, Offred returns to her room. She seeks perspective, but feels like she is stuck in the present and her new life. She knows she is thirty-three, has brown hair, and is 5’7”, but she has trouble remembering what she used to look like. Her viable ovaries are what give her one more chance to survive. Tonight, however, Offred realizes for the first time that the power dynamics have changed somehow. So long as the Commander wants her, she can ask for something. Aunt Lydia used to imply that men were sex machines, and that women had to manipulate them to get what they want. It was nature’s way. But all that the Commander wanted from Offred was a few games of Scrabble and a kiss. This is one of the most bizarre things to have happened to her, she realizes.
Offred remembers a television documentary, from the time before. It was about the mistress of a Nazi officer. The man was cruel and brutal, but when interviewed 40 or 50 years later, the mistress claimed that he was not a monster. He must have acted very differently in his own home. The mistress would have wanted to soothe this man, to make his hardships better. She would have believed things were hard for him too, otherwise how could she have kept living that way, knowing what he was? The documentary mentioned that several days after this last interview, she killed herself. What Offred remembers now, of all things, is the makeup she wore in the interview.
As she begins to undress for bed, Offred hears something, and realizes it is her own laughter. Something has cracked inside her—it’s hysteria maybe. She has to cover her mouth to keep the laughter from coming out, because if the others think something is wrong with her there could be repercussions. She tries to compose herself and eventually the laughing fit passes. She leans into the close and traces the words there—Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. She wonders why the previous woman bothered to scratch it in; there’s no escape from the house. Eventually, Offred falls asleep.
The next morning Offred wakes up to a scream and a crash. Cora has dropped her breakfast tray. She saw Offred asleep in the closet and thought she had killed herself. Offred claims she was just dizzy the previous night, from the strain of the birth.
It is now further into the summer, and the Commander and Offred have met several times in his study and developed a routine. Nick is the signal—when his hat is crooked, this means that Offred is to meet the commander that night. They must hide this arrangement from the Commander’s Wife, Serena Joy. The first time they met, Offred was unsure of the Commander’s needs. She had been expecting some sort of kinky sex, so the Scrabble was a letdown in a way. Their second evening together, they played Scrabble again, only this time the Commander let Offred read a women’s magazine from the time before after the game. Even though all such magazines were supposed to have been destroyed, he kept some, claiming he had an appreciation of old things. On the third night, Offred worked up the nerve to ask for something—hand lotion. She realized that he knew very little about what her life was actually like; for him, she was nothing but a whim.
The next time there is a Ceremony, Offred realizes that things are different. The Commander looks at her, and at one point seems like he wants to touch her. After, she reprimands his actions. If Serena Joy knew about their secret meetings, it could mean her life. She realizes that despite the non-sexual nature of their meetings, she has become his mistress, in a way. She doesn’t love the Commander, but she appreciates that he sees her as a real person, and as something other than empty.
Ofglen and Offred go shopping as usual, but they are more comfortable with one another than they used to be and don’t bother with formal greetings. They stop in front of a store called Soul Scrolls, which is a franchise. There is a similar store in every city center. Inside, machines called Holy Rollers print out prayers, which are ordered by Compuphone. It is mostly Wives who do the ordering. There are five prayers to pick from: for health, wealth, a death, a birth, or a sin. The machines print these prayers and the Wives can hear the prayers aloud on the phone. After, the paper is recycled and used again; no one ever enters the store itself.
Offred and Ofglen stare into each other’s eyes via the store’s window reflection. Ofglen asks if Offred thinks God listens to the machines’ prayers, and even though it is blasphemy, Offred replies no. Offred has crossed some sort of invisible barrier—now both women realize that neither is a true believer. Ofglen tells her that it is safe to talk in front of Soul Scrolls because it just looks like they are praying. Ofglen explains that there is a network of nonbelievers, and that their safe word is Mayday. She used it on Offred once, but Offred didn’t understand its meaning. Several minutes later, they witness a man grabbed off the street by two Eyes and thrown into a black van with a white-winged eye painted on the side. Offred is relieved—she was afraid the van was coming for her.
In the afternoon, Offred is filled with too much adrenaline for a nap so instead she thinks about Moira. Moira would probably disapprove of the Commander; she disapproved of Luke when he started dating Offred even though he was still married. In the time before, Offred worked at a library. Women were allowed jobs then, but paper money had become obsolete. People used compubanks for monetary transactions. This is part of the reason the new regime was able to gain power.
There was a catastrophe in which the president and Congress were all assassinated. The army took control, and more and more restrictions were put in place in the weeks that followed. At the time, people thought the censorship and roadblocks were necessary, for security reasons. However, one day, all women were fired from their jobs. Their compubank accounts were transferred to their husbands. That day, it occurred to Offred that the soldiers she saw were wearing different uniforms—it was a different army.
In one of her sessions with the Commander in his office, Offred asks what the term Nolite te bastardes carborundorum means. He laughs and tells her that it is not really Latin. It is a joke schoolboys used to write in textbooks and means “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Offred realizes that the girl before her must have met the Commander here in his office as well. She asks about her, and discovers that the previous Handmaid hanged herself. That is the reason there are no chandeliers in her room, and that Cora reacted so strongly the time she found Offred asleep in the closet. The Commander asks what else Offred would like—he feels guilty about the past Handmaid. She tells him she wants information—to know what’s going on.
Night falls, and Offred sits by the window. She sees someone moving outside in the garden. It is Nick. He looks up at her in the window. Nick looks at her with a kind of hunger, and Offred knows he lusts after her. She thinks of Luke, and how Moira once said that you can’t help how you feel, but you can help how you act. But for Offred, context is everything.
The night before she and Luke left their apartment for the last time, Offred walked through all the rooms to memorize what they looked like. Since they couldn’t bring anything with them, all of their belongings were still in place. Luke went into the garage and killed the cat—they couldn’t let her starve, but if they let her outside it could cause suspicion. Offred realized she should have gone with Luke to kill their pet or at least asked him about it after, but she did neither of these things, letting him carry that burden by himself. He did it as a sacrifice, for their survival. But it didn’t make any difference. The police were waiting for them at the border. Someone had tipped them off.
To make herself feel better, Offred tries to picture the people she loves, but their images are fading. She realizes she is forgetting too much. She decides to say prayers. At the Red Center, Aunt Lydia would hit the backs or arms of the kneeling Handmaids with her cattle prong in order to make them keep their posture.
They used to pray for emptiness, so that they would be worthy of being filled with a baby. At the window, Offred prays to God that he will tell her his real name, and that he will help her get through her circumstances. She asks that He keep her loved ones safe, and if they have to die, that it be painless. Next comes Temptation, and she thinks of the chandelier and the Handmaid who came before. Offred wonders how she herself can keep living such a life.
One day Serena Joy calls Offred into her sitting room. She says that Offred’s time to conceive is running out, and that maybe her husband cannot reproduce. To say such a thing is blasphemy, but Offred agrees. Serena Joy says she should try with another man, and that she will arrange for Offred and Nick to get together. She must really want that baby, Offred realizes. Offred knows her life is on the line, but she has little to lose so she consents. Serena Joy offers her a cigarette as a reward and tells Offred to ask Rita for a match. She also says she can bring a picture of Offred’s daughter, and Offred realizes that Serena Joy has known the whole time where she was. In the kitchen, Offred asks for a match, but decides not to use it on the cigarette. She decides to hide it in her mattress. A match is power—she could burn the house down if she wanted.
That afternoon Offred walks with Ofglen. This time, they are not going shopping. Instead, they are going to a district-wide Prayvaganza, where all the women come together to worship. The Prayvaganza is also a time for arranged marriages: young daughters are given to Angels as Wives in group weddings. The Handmaids are able to talk here because there is enough noise to cover them. Ofglen explains that she knows about Offred’s secret meetings with her Commander—somehow the information has gotten back to the network. Offred’s Commander is very high up in the power chain, so Ofglen wants her to spy on him. Janine is also at the Prayvaganza, but she looks pale and worn out. Her baby ended up being an Unbaby after all.
The day Offred and Luke tried to cross the border, the man took their passports. Luke sped their car away when he saw the man placing a call. In the present, Offred realizes this is not a story she wants to be telling. Instead, she thinks about how she discussed the notion of falling in love with the Commander. In the time before, Love was what drove relationships in society. There is a knock on the door. It is Serena Joy, with the picture of Offred’s daughter. She looks tall and healthy, and is smiling in her white Daughter dress. Offred is happy that her daughter still exists and lives, but it is unbearable to her that her daughter has probably nearly forgotten about her by now. She almost wishes she hadn’t seen the picture.
That night, the Commander is already drunk when Offred knocks on the door. He gives Offred a skimpy outfit that must once have been a costume and tells her that he is taking her out. After Offred changes, the Commander lets her put on lipstick and then gives her a blue Wife cloak to wear as a disguise. Nick drives the car for them, and Offred wonders what he must think of her. The Commander brings Offred to a building that was once a hotel but has now been converted into a club and prostitution ring called Jezebel’s.
At Jezebel’s, Offred sees Moira, and they manage to escape into the bathroom to talk like they used to at the Red Center. Moira explains what happened to her after she escaped in Aunt Elizabeth’s clothing. She went to a Quaker family for help and was smuggled North toward Canada. However, she was caught right as she was about to cross the Canadian border, and they sent her to Jezebel’s. She also explains that she was shown a documentary of the Unwomen in the Colonies. She saw Offred’s mother in one of them—she is cleaning up toxic waste, and likely won’t survive more than a few years. Offred goes back to the Commander, who brings her to the hotel room. They sleep together, but Offred lies awkwardly and forces herself to fake it. She never sees Moira again.
After Offred returns home from Jezebel’s, she doesn’t go to bed. This is the night that Serena Joy has arranged her coupling with Nick. At midnight, Serena Joy takes her to the kitchen and instructs her to go up to Nick’s room over the garage. It is hot and humid, and the search lights have been turned off, either because of a power failure or because of Serena Joy’s planning. Nick opens the door to his apartment. It has a fold-out bed and minimal decorations and furniture. There are no preliminaries and without saying anything, Nick turns out the lamp and begins to undo Offred’s dress. A storm begins outside, and they make love through the thunder.
Only that’s not how it happens. What really happens is that Nick gives Offred a drag of his cigarette and tells her that he gets paid for this, and that it’s nothing personal. They quote some old movies, and Offred begins to cry. Nick comforts her and tells her “No romance.” They make love, but there is no thunder. Offred only added that to cover up the sounds she made, which she is ashamed of.
In actuality, it didn’t happen like that either. Offred isn’t sure exactly how it happened. She is reconstructing again, trying to approximate how love feels. After, she thinks what she has done is a betrayal to Luke. Not the act itself, but her body’s response to it. She wishes she were a shameless person so she would not have to feel this way.
Offred wishes her story was different, and that it was happier. But she is committed to telling the truth, so she continues. She continues going back to Nick, on her own terms, without Serena Joy’s permission. This is risky and reckless but she felt her life so terrible that she had little to lose even if discovered. Nick doesn’t speak much, but Offred tells him things about her former life, including her true name. Ofglen continues to pester her to spy on the Commander, but Offred is not interested. She is too preoccupied with her romance with Nick.
One day, Offred and Ofglen attend a women’s salvaging. Salvagings are public executions, and they are always divided by gender. Female executions are rare—Offred supposes the women have learned to be more obedient than the men. There are two Handmaids to be executed, and one Wife. In the past, the women used to be told their crimes prior to the execution, but Aunt Lydia tells the crowd that the new policy is not to reveal the crimes. Offred is left to guess what these women have done wrong—the Handmaids probably tried to escape, and the Wife either tried to kill her Handmaid or committed adultery.
After the hangings, there is one more execution, called a particicution. The Handmaids are asked to form a circle, and a drunk and bruised Guardian is brought in the center. Aunt Lydia explains that this man was convicted of a brutal rape. The Handmaids are allowed to attack him to death. When Aunt Lydia blows the whistle, Ofglen runs forward and gives the man several sharp blows to the head. Offred is appalled by her brutality, but Ofglen later explains that the man was not a rapist, but a political dissident and part of the Mayday network. Ofglen was merely trying to knock him out to put him out of his misery.
In the afternoon, Offred goes out for shopping, but Ofglen is not at the corner. She has been replaced by a new Handmaid. Offred tries to use the Mayday signal on the new Handmaid, but the new woman warns her not to use such words. She knows the signal, but she isn’t part of the network. She tells Offred that Ofglen was discovered and hanged herself before the government could take her away. Offred realizes that the government could discover her as well, although she’s technically done nothing wrong other than listen.
Back at the house, Serena Joy meets Offred at the door. She has discovered lipstick on her cloak from Offred’s night at Jezebel’s and is furious about the betrayal. She sends Offred to her room.
Offred waits in her room and contemplates the different ways she could attempt to kill herself. She feels the presence of the Handmaid before her, the one who hanged herself, in the room. She hears the black van approaching the house, and knows the Eyes have come to take her away. Nick opens the door, and Offred wonders if Nick was an Eye all along. Instead he embraces her and calls her by her real name. He tells Offred that the men are Mayday and that they will bring her to safety. Offred is still suspicious and thinks he could be lying, but she has no other choice but to go with them.
Serena Joy and the Commander stand in the hallway as Offred leaves. Serena Joy asks what Offred has done—this arrest is clearly unrelated to Offred’s affair with the Commander. The Eye says she is guilty of violation of state secrets. This puts the Commander at risk as well, since he was the one who could have told her any secrets. Offred enters the van, not knowing whether it is going toward darkness or light.
Shortly after Betsie’s death, Corrie learns that she is to be released. She is forced to sign a release saying that she was treated fairly and the conditions were excellent at Ravensbruck; then they give her meal vouchers, her valuables, and put her on a train to Berlin. Corrie has a hard time functioning after being institutionalized and learns that her money cannot be used in Berlin. She finally gets to Holland, where she stays in a hospital in Groningen until she can travel further into the country; she enjoys having hot baths and clean sheets for a few days. When she is finally able to hitch a ride to Willem’s house, she finds that he is still seriously ill, and no one has received word about his son Kik.
When Corrie is finally able to return to Beje she finds that Toos has been running the shop while she has been gone. Nollie and her daughters come to see Corrie and the reunion is highly emotional. Corrie feels as though she is of little use back at home, so she rejoins the underground, though her instincts and reactions are not what they used to be. A woman named Mrs. Bierens wants to help Corrie to open the rehabilitation home that was Betsie’s dream and offers her home to use. In May 1945, Holland is liberated, and in June a woman named Mrs. Kan is the first resident of the home. Corrie finds that she has a hard time forgiving her own neighbors for betraying their friends and also cannot forgive the guards from the camps. She opens Beje to members of the Nazi party who no longer want to be involved with it. When she begins doing speaking engagements she meets a former guard and is unable to shake his hand even after telling her that he is Christian; she realizes her lack of forgiveness makes life hard to live. As Corrie continues traveling she spreads the story, as Betsie’s story, and helps to make her sister’s dreams come true.
Travis is so sad about Old Yeller that he cannot eat, sleep, or cry and feels empty inside. Travis spends a lot of time thinking about how Old Yeller helped his family and Mama tries to talk with Travis about it to make him feel better, but it does not work. Lisbeth reminds Travis that the puppy is part of Old Yeller, but Travis only thinks that the puppy has not helped to keep his family alive like Old Yeller did; he feels bad for shooting his dog when he did not even do anything to deserve it. Soon the rain comes, and the hydrophobic plague is washed away from the land. Papa comes home in the morning, thinner than he was when he left but happy to have money and a horse for Travis. Travis appreciates the horse, but Papa can tell something is wrong with him. Papa gets the story from Mama, and after dinner, he walks down to the creek with Travis and tells him that he knows about Old Yeller. He tells Travis that he did exactly the right thing, just as a grown man would do, and he is proud of him. Papa tells Travis to think about the good parts of each situation because if he dwells on the bad then all of life will be bad. Travis understands what his father is saying, but he is still sad. A week later, Travis hears Mama yelling at the puppy for stealing cornbread, Little Arliss crying because Mama hit the puppy, and Papa laughing at the whole situation; Travis feels a little better. When Travis returns from riding his horse he sees Little Arliss playing naked in the water with the puppy and Travis starts laughing uncontrollably. He decides that he will bring Little Arliss and the puppy squirrel hunting because if the puppy is going to act like Old Yeller he may as well be of use.
Vin is in her room, piles of paper all around her on the floor. She continues to sort through the pages, rearranging them as she rereads different parts. She even starts to take notes of some quotes that she wants to remember. OreSeur watches her, commenting that she should use the desk instead of the floor. Elend walks in, and he is amazed that she is researching. He is also impressed with her penmanship, based on the pretty letters in her notes. Elend takes Vin with him to meet the messenger that has come from his father’s army. Vin is shocked to find that this messenger is also the man that was following her, the watcher. The messenger’s name is Zane, and he acts like an ambassador. Later, Vin and OreSeur wait outside for Zane. The two Mistborn spar, jumping from one rooftop to another. Zane says that Vin is different from the rest. She shouldn’t allow herself to be used by them. Vin doesn’t know what he means. When Zane leaves, Vin is sure she wants to spar with him more.
Zane comes back to his camp, or his father’s camp. He has a guard summon is father to the strategy tent. While waiting, he gives one of the soldiers strategic positions of the forces in Luthadel. Straff comes in and Zane tells him about the day’s activities, including what was said between Zane and Elend. They talk over a cup of tea. Straff, being a tineye, burns tin and smells poison in the tea he’s drinking. He knows Zane is always trying to poison him. He defiantly drinks the tea anyway and dismisses Zane. After, Straff summons one of his mistresses, a woman named Amaranta, who prepares a concoction of medicines in a special tea for Straff. He drinks the new tea, hoping he’ll live again this time.
Sazed has traveled six weeks worth of distance in six days, using his metalminds from time to time. Whenever a metalmind runs out, he leaves it on the ground, trying to lessen the amount of weight he has to carry. He notices several pillars of smoke ahead, sure sign that there is an army or camp of some kind. He is surprised to see that the army camp is made up of koloss, a dark blue kind of monster barbarian, once controlled by the Lord Ruler. Sazed is found by a koloss patrol. They force him to come down from the tree he was hiding in and follow them into the camp. Sazed is surprised once again to see that the man controlling these koloss is Jastes Lekal, a one-time friend of Elend Venture. Jastes says that he plans to conquer Luthadel as his own. He ends up letting Sazed go, under the condition that Sazed tell Elend about what he has seen. Sazed leaves, feeling even more urgency about getting to Luthadel.
Elends meets with his advisors–Ham, Breeze, Dockson, and Vin. Tindwyl is there, too. They try to talk Elend out of this plan he has to go into his father’s camp and trick him into fighting Cett. They don’t think Elend can con someone like that, but Elend is insistent that he can manipulate his father any time he wants. Plus, Elend argues, he’ll have Vin with him, in case Straff tries to take his own son hostage. Vin, listening in to the conversation, discovers through bronze that Breeze is soothing Elend to make him more confident. After the meeting, Tindwyl chastises Elend for not acting more like a king. Kings cannot doubt themselves. They must always feel that they are the right man for the job and convince others of the same through sheer confidence. The discussion is interrupted when Elend gets word that Cett’s daughter has arrived in Luthadel, looking for Breeze.
Cetts daughter, Allrianne, has left her father’s camp and come to Luthadel to see Breeze, whom she affectionately calls Breezy. Breeze is completely embarrassed by this, but the rest of the group gets a good laugh at his expense. Allrianne says she hated staying in her father’s camp; she needs comforts only a city can bring, like fresh water and a bed. After Allrianne leaves to freshen up, the group decides it may be beneficial to keep her. It may prevent her father from attacking too soon.
Vin, hides, suspended in the mists, just above Keep Venture. She spies on Ham as he walks across a courtyard. As she follows him, as a predetermined time, OreSeur jumps from behind some boxes and howls, scaring Ham. Ham reacts by flaring pewter. This confirms to Vin that he is not the kandra imposter. Vin admits to Ham that she is out of atium, meaning she’ll die the next time she fights a Mistborn with atium. She wonders is there is a secret to killing someone with atium. Ham doesn’t think so, although there have been some theories about how to do so. It may be possible, for example, to surprise them somehow. After that, Vin has a heart-to-heart with OreSeur. They talk about the way kandra are often treated, beaten by their own masters. They spot someone approaching the keep’s walls. It turns out to be Sazed, who has returned with, as he puts it, “problems and troubles.
Sazed is telling the group in the kitchens late at night, what he saw in the Koloss camp. They are not happy to know that a third army is on its way to Luthadel. Sazed does not know how Lekal is controlling the creatures, but the group does know that 20,000 koloss could beat an army of at least four times that many humans, meaning there is nothing stopping them from reaching and taking Luthadel. Finally, Sazed also share his fear regarding the mist killing people. He thinks something was released when the Lord Ruler was killed, although he never personally saw the mist kill anyone. Cett’s daughter comes walking in, half disheveled, asking what’s going on. They dismiss her and the group breaks apart, everyone either going to bed or to some corner to thin. Vin takes OreSeur outside to patrol. Back in his room, Sazed meets Tindwyl, an old friend of his. She criticizes him for returning and having strange theories about the mist.
Vin is outside, thinking about the beating she hears to the north, just like the writer of the log book, the supposed Hero of Ages. Zane finds her, and again he tries to convince her to leave Elend and Luthadel, claiming that she is being used by them and that she can do much better on her own, free to do as she pleases. Vin insists that she is very happy doing what she is doing and that no one is forcing her to do anything.
Vin is woken by a quiet bark of warning from OreSeur. She reacts by jumping out of bed, reaching for a dagger, and downing a vile of metals. She does all this before she realizes that the person that was “sneaking up on her” is actually Tindwyl the Terriswoman. Tindwyl obligates her to go shopping with herself and Allrianne, something Vin knows she will detest. They take a carriage to the market, the three women and OreSeur, who everything still assumes is just an ordinary wolfhound, along with Spook, who is forced to go to carry the girls’ bags. Vin manages to find a dress that she likes, and Tindwyl arranges for the dress to be made special for a Mistborn. Meanwhile, a someone has identifies Vin and a large crowd has gathered outside the storefront. Vin reluctantly goes outside to talk to them. They obviously worship her, calling her the Heir to the Survivor–Kelsier. She tries to say something that will inspire hope, but she feels that she is really just lying to them. Meanwhile, Elend is at the wall when Straff’s men attack. The guards and archers on the wall are in a total panic, and they barely kill a few of the invading wave before it retreats to the Venture camp. This was a test, just to try out Luthadel’s defenses, it is explained to Elend. Straff is sending a message, just before Elend is supposed to go out to the camp and talk to his father.
Vin opens the box sent from the dress maker, happy to find that the new dress is very well designed for a Mistborn, allowing her to move and fight freely. It even has secret hiding places for her daggers and some vials of metal. OreSeur does not think going is a good idea, since Vin and Elend would be alone in Straff’s army camp. Vin knows she must go anyway. Elend and Vin ride into the camp. Over the meal, Elend tries to manipulate Straff, but the man seems to catch on too quickly. Then he sends Vin out of the tent, so they can talk alone, father and son.
Straff and Elend talk inside, and things don’t seem to be going very well for Elend. Straff says he’ll just have Elend killed and demand Luthadel to open the gates to him. Elend says that if he is killed, Vin will kill Straff. Vin is outside, listening. She begins to manipulate Straff’s emotions, making him feel afraid. Finally, she smoothes away everything–every emotion he has, leaving him feeling empty and dead inside. The trick works, and Elend and Vin get out of the camp safe. Meanwhile, Zane has a little chat with Vin outside the tent, telling her that she is nothing but a knife to Elend. After they are gone, Straff commands Zane to kill Vin. Back in Luthadel, Elend learns that the assembly has voted to remove him as king.
The group meets together to see what they’re going to do about the assembly’s vote. They try to figure out if the assembly already has someone else in mind to put on the thrown, or if they simple want to send a warning to Elend because he has been ignoring them of late. The discussion leads to an argument between Breeze and Ham, as always, and Vin gets a taste of kandra humor when OreSeur whispers that he could always eat one of them and solve the argument. Later, Elend gets another lesson from Tindwyl about how a proper kind should act.
At night, Vin and OreSeur have a talk. OreSeur doesn’t think it’s healthy for Vin to keep herself awake for long periods of time, burning pewter to stay strong. He also doesn’t like the way Vin treats Zane, who should be her enemy. In the middle of the conversation, Vin realizes that she’s figured out what the Deepness is.
Sazed is in his room, studying and transcribing the rubbings he found. He knows that these few pages of transcribed text could keep him busy for months or even years. Vin enters through his window and wants to talk to him about the deepness. Sazed talks about if the deepness is even real or if it’s just a made-up story, some propaganda spun by the Lord Ruler. Vin says she thinks it’s real and tells Sazed that she thinks it’s actually the mist itself. The log book and the rubbings don’t say the mist actually killed people but that people died because of the mist. That could be because a permenant mist that covered the ground would kill crops and live stalk, leaving people to die of starvation. Vin also tells Sazed about the mist spirit that has been following her.
The assembly gathers, and Elend gets an opportunity to explain what he has done with his father. He uses twenty minutes to tell of the situation with the two armies and how his meeting with Straff went. He tells them that he used Vin’s power to threaten Straff, a move that may protect the city for some time yet. Meanwhile, Vin tries to pay attention to Elend’s meeting. She sees Zane in the crowd, and he smiles at her. They then have nominations for who should run for king. Elend and Lord Penrod are nominated, and, lastly, Cett is nominated. The man reveals himself to be in the crowd.
Vin sits in her room, studying the stacks of papers she has there. OreSeur is there with her, and they talk about the religious beliefs of the kandra. They practically worship the Contract above all else, the agreement they have with their human masters. Meanwhile, Elend discovers that some of the wells in Luthadel are being poisoned by someone, probably one of the armies outside. Vin talks to Dockson, and in the conversation, she determines that he can’t be the spy. She and OreSeur turn their attentions toward a new option: Demoux, a captain of the guard.
Elend works to find a way to convince the assembly to name him king again, while Vin wants to tell him her theory about Demoux. Tindwyle gets upset with Sazed when she finds out that he helped write part of the laws Elend put into place a year ago. Vin leaves the group and finds Zane, who immediately attacks her. She thinks he wants to spar, like before, but the fight becomes aggressive and Vin must fight him to survive. Zane tells her that he was ordered to kill her and that this attack was a warning. There are also many refugees coming from the koloss army, on their way to seek refuge in Luthadel. After giving his two warnings, Zane leaves.
Vin tries on another custom-made dress. Tindwyl tells her that Elend has nearly learned as much as he can from her; he’ll now have to learn to be a good leader through experience. Elend prepares his armored escort and carriage to go and see Cett. Breeze decides not to go, since he and Cett have history, which would only make the situation worse. When Elend and Vin actually enter the keep Cett is staying in and talk to the man, they discover just how sincere he is. He doesn’t want his daughter back, trusting that Elend will take good care of her. Cett wants Elend to step down from the election for king, and in return he won’t have Elend killed when he is made king. They also talk about the fact that no atium was found in all of Luthadel. Finally, Cett dismisses the two.
Sazed wanders through warehouse full of refugees from the koloss attacks, trying to help and health where he can. Tindwyl comes in and talks to him. She wants to see what he’s found–the rubbings he’s been transcribing. Meanwhile, Breeze has been listening in on the conversation, soothing both people in a way that would make them more friendly to each other. He walks among the refugees, trying to sooth away bad emotions and make them feel better. Elend and Ham come in, and Elend wants to make sure all the people have the clothes they need. Later, Breeze goes into the keep and has a secret meeting with Clubs. Though they always seem to hate each other, they drink together and talk; they’ve struck up a strange companionship. Allrianne walks in and tries to steal Breeze away. Vin, watching from outside, discovers that Allrianne is a rioter, since she was rioting Breeze’s emotions. She and OreSeur then go to find Demoux, still certain that he is the kandra spy. They find him in a little meeting of the church of the Survivor. He can’t be a spy, Vin decides. Then who is?
Sazed and Tindwyl sit together in the study, pouring over the rubbings, searching their metalminds for any references to the deepness or Hero of Ages. It’s morning, meaning they’ve been at it all night long. Tindwyl knows the course of actions Sazed takes is different from what the keepers want, but she is willing to stay with him and study these things further. Meanwhile, Elend and Ham walk along the wall. Ham comments that Elend looks more kingly than ever. As they walk, Elend announces that he has an idea to help Luthadel’s situation.
Vin, Elend, and the rest of the crew arrive early for the day of the election for king. Before the voting begins, Vin, trying to figure out what Elend has up his sleeve, discovers that he has joined the church of the Savior, in an effort to curry votes from the skaa members of the assembly. Suddenly, a groups of allomancers attack Elend and Cett. Vin manages to fight off the men, getting badly hurt in the process. After the fighting, the vote is moved to a more secure location, and the assembly members each announce their vote. Surprisingly, Penrod, a nobleman from the assembly is chosen the new king. Elend hands over his crown and leaves.
Straff Venture is angry that Zane sent a group of his allomancers to their deaths while Vin still lives. Zane promises that he has a plan to take care of her. Meanwhile, Straff meets with Penrod, the new king of Luthadel. Penrod is planning to give Luthadel to Straff, opening the gates to him and handing over the kingship. Straff, on the other hand, doesn’t want to enter the city while Vin still lives. Later, Zane tells Straff that he has been poisoned again. Zane leaves, and Straff is forced to ride hard back into the camp so his mistress can make him another antidote tea.
Vin awakes to see that Elend is with her. He tells her that he is not king, and he reports that OreSeur, who was badly hurt in the fight, is currently digesting a new set of bones. Vin feels that Elend is now scared of her somehow because of the way she fought those allomancers. Vin goes back to sleep, and awakes to find Zane there. He accuses her, saying that she could have killed those attackers easily had she not been so distracted with protecting Elend and other innocents. Later, OreSeur visits Vin, in another dog’s body. They talk more about the Contract that binds all kandra. Vin uses brass and duralumin to push strongly on OreSeur’s emotions. Even though he at first does not react at all, with enough force, Vin hurts him very badly, and she felt like she were controlling him for a moment. She apologizes for hurting OreSeur, and he leaves to get some rest. Vin promise to never tell anyone what she’s discovered about kandra.
Sazed and Tindwyl continue to talk about the things they are learning. Something doesn’t make sense about the rubbings, written by Kwaan. It seems that Kwaan did not trust Alendi, but he also knew Alendi was a good man. But if Kwaan knew Alendi was good, why did he have his nephew, Rashek, to mislead or even kill Alendi? Elend comes in and asks for advice. After a discussion, he decides that being king isn’t about a title, but about doing something to help others. He returns to his closet and retrieves the white suite, the one made for a king.
Elend is hard at work, helping the people. He’s sending men out to dismantle the wooden parts of keeps and houses to use as firewood. The many refugees are cold and hungry, and he wants to help them. Someone comes with news that one of the gates under the river has been broken. That is how someone has been getting into the city and poisoning the wells. Also, other reports say that an Inquisitor is lurking about the city. Elend decides to go out and talk to Jastes, with the koloss army, himself. He rides out and meets Jastes, unable to make any kind of deal. On the way out, Elend manages to fight and kill one smaller koloss, earning the sword and pouch as his own. He looks into the pouch and discovers how Jastes is controlling the koloss. He’s paying them.
Vin sees Elend, now returned from his meet with the koloss army, inured and resting. Zanes comes and says that Cett was the one that planed the attack at the voting ceremony. Vin gets angry and decides to attack Cett. Zane and Vin attack the keep that Cett has been staying at in Luthadel. Together, they kill guards and hazekillers. Fueled by rage, Vin kills quickly, working her way to Cett’s room. She realizes that Zane is using atium, while she has none, and yet she’s killing just as easily as he is. They finally get to Cett’s room, where he is with his son. Vin fights them at first, but when she discovers that neither of them is an allomancer and that Cett doesn’t have a single allomancer with him, she leaves them behind, injured and scared.
The crew sees that Cett’s army is now leaving, a result of Vin’s attack on his keep the night before. Elend does not know why Vin attacked Cett like that. Some in the crew think she’s crazy, but Elend just sees her as determined. They also discover that the “coins” Jastes has been using to control the koloss are fake, wooden coins painted gold. Elend goes to find Vin, who is hiding in the city. He finds her with OreSeur’s help. She says she must leave Luthadel and go north, to Terris. Elend says he trust her to do the right thing. They have one large bead of atium, and Vin gives it to OreSeur to hold for her.
Sazed and Tindwyl compare notes, studying the rubbing and other references they’ve managed to find. Tindwyl admits that she doesn’t believe in these prophecies, her interest in them being purely academic. Sazed, on the other hand, thinks Vin might actually be the next Hero of the Ages. While they talk, they discover that someone–or something–has torn a piece from one of the transcription pages. Vin comes in, while they try to figure out at what point were they both gone or occupied to not have seen an intruder going through their things. Vin asks Sazed how she can know if she’s in love. They talk about trust. After Vin leaves, Elend comes in and starts asking similar questions. Elend thinks he and Vin are too different to make a couple, but Sazed says that, to him, they are more alike than they think. After Elend leaves, Sazed realizes that Luthadel is going to fall soon; he needs to get both Elend and Vin out of the city before that happens.
Sazed calls a meeting with the members of the crew: Dockson, Breeze, Ham, and Clubs. He doesn’t invite Elend, Vin, or Spook. They talk about how the city is sure to fall. Straff apparently is in no hurry to take Luthadel. Instead, he’ll back off and let the koloss attack the city first. The koloss will win and enter the city, pillaging as they go. Then, with the koloss weakened and tired from the fight, Venture will ride in like a hero and save the city, defeating the koloss and taking Luthadel for himself. Sazed says that Elend and Vin need to get out of the city before these things happen. He wants Spook and Tindwyl to go with them. The rest of the group will have to stay and fight and die. Meanwhile, Vin feels she must follow the drumming she hears all the time. In Straff’s camp, Zane is attacked by his father’s men. He defeats them, but spares his father. He leaves, saying that tonight he will take Vin with him and leave Luthadel. He tells Straff that he should wait for the koloss to attack and then take the city.
Vin is in her room with OreSeur when Zane visits. He wants her to come with him, but she says she can’t because she doesn’t want to leave Elend. When Zane sees that she won’t go, he attacks her. They fight. When Zane starts to burn atium, Vin asks OreSeur for the large bead, a bead Zan had given her before. OreSeur doesn’t respond to her command. Vin discovers that OreSeur is not OreSeur. He is TenSoon, Zane’s kandra. Of course! There was no other spy. The bones they found were TenSoon’s and he had killed OreSeur! Zane corners Vin, but Vin uses a massive soothing to take control of OreSeur/TenSoon and attack Zane from behind. She then cuts the bead of atium fro TenSoon. But this is another trick. The bead is lead, with only a thin layer of atium. Soon, Vin is left helpless against a Mistborn killer with atium. Vin decides that Zane can see what she’s about to do, or, rather, what she plans on doing. If she attacks without thinking, though, she can, see in Zane’s reaction what she is going to do, only to change it at the last possible second. The trick works, and Vin defeats Zane. After Zane dies, she thanks OreSeur/TenSoon for helping her win. His contract is void, and he must return to his people. Vin goes to find Elend.
Elend is in his study when Vin comes in, bloody from her fight with Zane. She tells him that she killed him. He calls for Sazed, who comes to help with the wounds. While she is there, on the ground, she asks Sazed if he knows any wedding ceremonies. Of course, he knows hundreds. Vin asks which one is the shortest, and Sazed recalls one that only requires a declaration of love between the bride and groom before an ordained witness. Vin and Elend both say that they love each other, and Sazed declares them married. The wounds are clean, and Sazed sends Vin to get some rest. He also gives them a fake map to find the Well of Ascension. If the couple follows the map, they’ll be gone from Luthadel for a long time.
Elend and Vin prepare to ride out of the city. Tindwyl decides to stay in Luthadel. Spooks gets ready to go, and Allrianne will ride out, at Breeze’s insistence. So the four of them ride out, Vin quickly having to fight pursuers from Straff’s army. Once they are free, Allrianne breaks off to find her father’s army. Meanwhile, some of the crew watch as the escape, now sure of their own coming doom. Straff Venture hears of the escapes, but he has problems of his own now. He’s getting sick, which he knows is the result of poisoning from his son, Zane. He sends for his mistress, Amaranta, to fix him an antidote, but he discovers that she isn’t preparing what she normally does. She is actually killing, as she has for a long time. There never was any poison. Zane never tried to kill his father. But Amaranta, in her constant fixing of teas for Straff, has been causing him to become addicted to a rare drug. Without that drug, Straff will die. Straff, in a rage, kills Amaranta and then swallows as much powder from her medicine cabnet as he can, hoping to accidentally swallow some of the drug he needs before he loses consciousness.
Allrianne has made her way to her father’s camp, with the help of some bandits she’s tamed with her rioting. Her father, Cett, is not happy to see her. She convinces him to go back and join the winning party in the battle that is to come, although Cett promises that will likely be Straff. Meanwhile, Elend wakes up on the third morning out of Luthadel. He and Vin share a tent now, and he finds himself surprisingly comfortable on the hard ground, with Vin next to him. They get up and prepare the fire. It’s just the three of them: Elend, Vin, and Spook. Meanwhile Straff wakes up in bed. His men have taken care of him, and they’ve isolated the plant he needs to stay alive. When he hears that Vin and Elend have left the city, the men ask if they should attack now. Straff says no; they should pull back and wait for the koloss. Sazed meets with the others to plan a strategy for when the koloss attack. They plan to have a group of men at each gate. Saze and Tindwyl get a little time together, but then the warning drums begin to beat.
Vin is thinking about how the mist is staying later and later every day, instead of just disappearing with dawn, when she feels the pulsing of the mist spirit coming from Elend’s tent. She runs in, just in time to see the outline of that spirit lift some kind of knife to attack Elend, who is sleeping on the ground. She attacks the spirit and it disappears. Elend wakes up and never knows what was happening. She leaves Elend to sleep a little more and goes out to speak with Spook. He thinks someone is following them. Meanwhile, Sazed and the crew get ready, since it looks like the Koloss are about to attack. Men are at each gate, with one crewmember there to help. Straff sees that the koloss are attacking, but he tells his men to wait. Vin and Elend attack the camp of people that have been following them. It turns out to be Jastes. He’s lost control of the koloss, so he just left them. Elend kills Jastes because of his crimes against Luthadel. Vin discovers that the drumming sounds are getting softer, meaning the well is to the south, in Luthadel, and not in the Terris mountains.
Breeze works at his assigned gate, soothing soldiers by the dozen, helping them to be brave and fight well. The koloss pound at the door, while men atop the wall rain arrows down on the attackers. The koloss throw rocks up in return, smashing archers. Meanwhile, Vin runs towards Luthadel, burning pewter. She knows she will run out of pewter long before reaching Luthadel, and she wonders if the effect will kill her. But still she keeps running. Breeze and Clubs talk while the koloss continue to beat the gate. They blame themselves for being stupid enough to be in this mess, and they blame Kelsier for getting them into such responsibilities. Just then, the gates burst open. Meanwhile, Sazed gets word that Breeze’s gate had fallen. He doesn’t think he can really help. He notices that there is a crowd of skaa standing behind the defense force. When Sazed confronts them, telling them that they should flee to safety inside the city, the skaa answer that they are there to witness the fall of the koloss at the hands of Vin, who they are sure will return and make her appearance at Sazed’s gate. Then the gate breaks. Sazed musters his stored strength, growing in size, and faces the lead koloss, shouting for the men to fight. Vin, half collapsing and out of pewter, reaching a small village. At first she thinks to ask for pewter, but then she remembers how she used to travel with Kelsier on a path of metal bars in the ground. She asks for horseshoes, using them to “walk” by leaping, placing horseshoes ahead of her and pulling the ones behind to place further. In this way, she uses the horseshoes like stilts to help her travel in the air.
Outside Luthadel, Straff Venture sees that the koloss have now broken into the city gates. His men are ready to attack the koloss from the rear, but Straff decides to wait longer. Sazed, fighting the koloss, realizes that they need to get the gate closed again in order to survive. Using strength and weight, he manages to fight off the koloss and get the gate closed again. While getting a little break, a messenger comes and says that Tindwyl’s gate fell over an hour ago. Meanwhile, Clubs and Breeze are attacked and forced to run. Clubs is killed, while Breeze hides in a building. Dockson contemplates the root of their failure. He attacks a koloss, only to be cut down. Straff decides not to swoop in a save the city while the koloss are weak. Instead, he’d rather wait for the koloss to kill everyone and burn the city. Then Straff will move in. Meanwhile, Sazed fights on, wondering what happened to Tindwyl. He feels he is going to die, but then Vin arrives and starts killing koloss. Breeze is found by Ham and some others. They want to try to escape.
Vin continues killing koloss, several at a time. Sazed, outside Lord Penrod’s keep, begs the newly appointed king to go with them as they try to escape. Penrod insists on staying inside his keep. Vin continues to fight the koloss, but now she is almost completely out of pewter, steel, and almost every other metal. In desperation, to save some skaa from certain death, she super-soothes them, like she’d done to TenSoon, controlling the koloss with her mind. Sazed is standing outside Penrod’s keep when Vin walks up with koloss in tow. She orders Penrod to gather his men and put out the fires in Luthadel. Vin will take care of the koloss throughout the city. Later, Sazed finds Tindwyl’s dead body among the slain soldiers. He feels that all the faith, all the religions, he has always treasured is now useless. His life, he believes, has been a sham.
Straff wakes up and takes a sample of the drug he needs to stay alive. He gathers his men, expecting to be able to take the city now. But the koloss come out with the remaining soldiers of Luthadel. Vin jumps from among the koloss, sailing through the sky with a giant sword, cleaving Straff and his horse in half on impact. Allrianne watches these events from her father’s camp. She charges after them to help Luthadel’s army, forcing her father and his men to ride after her. Straff’s army surrenders, and Janarle, Straff’s general, is named the new Lord of the Venture army. Janarle, Penrod, and Cett all swear loyalty to Elend as their Emperor. Vin, needing rest, leaves Sazed in charge of the Empire until Elend can return to Luthadel.
The historical notes section is a fictionalized transcript of a university symposium on Gileadean Studies in 2195. It has now been nearly 200 years since the time of Offred’s experience. Professor Pieixoto explains that the manuscript of The Handmaid’s Tale was found recorded in a series of tapes in a town at the border with Canada. Although there can be no certainty how the tapes got there, Pieixoto believes that the house was part of an Underground Femaleroad that took escaped women to Canada.
The professor speculates whether the story is genuine, and who its author might be. In the early Gileadean age, Handmaids were given the names of their Commanders, thus Offred would have lived in the household of a man named Fred. There are two potential high-ranking men who fit the Commander’s description. One is Frederick R. Waterford, and the other B. Frederick Judd. Waterford had a background in marketing and a wife who formerly worked on a TV show, although there is no record of a Serena Joy. Still, the professor speculates that Waterford is most likely the Commander in the narrative. Waterford was later killed in a Purging. He was accused of harboring a subversive, which may have been Offred but was most likely Nick, who would have been a double agent—both an Eye for the government and a member of Mayday.
Both Judd and Waterford were responsible for thinking of and implementing such practices as Handmaids, particicutions, and salvagings. Pieixoto also explains more about the societal factors in Gilead. Many Caucasians had been made sterile either as a result of harmful chemicals and nuclear spills, or else because of a silent strand of syphilis. The fate of the narrator herself is unknown—there is no way to track whether she survived or made it to safety. Much has been lost to history, and her fate remains ambiguous.