Chapter IV: Waiting Room is the 4th chapter of The Handmaid's Tale (Novel). It contains section 8-12.
Section 8 Edit
Returning from another shopping trip, Ofglen and Offred notice three new bodies on the Wall. One is a Catholic priest and two are Guardians who bear placards around their necks that read “Gender Treachery.” This means they were hanged for committing homosexual acts. After looking at the bodies for a while, Offred tells Ofglen that they should continue walking home.
They meet a funeral procession of Econowives, the wives of poorer men. One Econowife carries a small black jar. From the size of the jar, Offred can tell that it contains a dead embryo from an early miscarriage—one that came too early to know whether it was an “Unbaby.” The Econowives do not like the Handmaids. One woman scowls, and another spits at the Handmaids as they pass.
At the corner near the Commander’s home, Ofglen says “Under His Eye,” the orthodox good-bye, hesitating as if she wants to say more but then continuing on her way.
When Offred reaches the Commander’s driveway she passes Nick, who breaks the rules by asking her about her walk. She says nothing and goes into the house. She sees Serena Joy out in the garden and recalls how after Serena’s singing career ended, she became a spokesperson for respecting the “sanctity of the home” and for women staying at home instead of working. Serena herself never stayed at home, because she was always out giving speeches. Once, Offred remembers, someone tried to assassinate Serena but killed her secretary instead. Offred wonders if Serena is angry that she can no longer be a public figure, now that what she advocated has come to pass and all women, including her, are confined to the home.
In the kitchen, Rita fusses over the quality of the purchases as she always does. Offred retreats upstairs and notices the Commander standing outside her room. He is not supposed to be there. He nods at her and retreats.
Section 9 Edit
Offred remembers renting hotel rooms and waiting for Luke to meet her, before they were married, when he was cheating on his first wife. She regrets that she did not fully appreciate the freedom to have her own space when she wanted it. Thinking of the problems she and Luke thought they had, she realizes they were truly happy, although they did not know it. She remembers examining her room in the Commander’s house little by little after she first arrived. She saw stains on the mattress, left over from long-ago sex, and she discovered a Latin phrase freshly scratched into the floor of the closet: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Offred does not understand Latin. It pleases her to imagine that this message allows her to commune with the woman who wrote it. She pictures this woman as freckly and irreverent, someone like Moira. Later, she asks Rita who stayed in her room before her. Rita tells her to specify which one, implying that there were a number of Handmaids before her. Offred says, guessing, “[t]he lively one . . . with freckles.” Rita asks how Offred knew about her, but she refuses to tell Offred anything about the previous Handmaid beyond a vague statement that she did not work out.
Section 10 Edit
Offred often sings songs in her head—“Amazing Grace” or songs by Elvis. Most music is forbidden in Gilead, and there is little of it in the Commander’s home. Sometimes she hears Serena humming and listening to a recording of herself from the time when she was a famous gospel singer. Summer is approaching, and the house grows hot. Soon the Handmaids will be allowed to wear their summer dresses. Offred thinks about how Aunt Lydia would describe the terrible things that used to happen to women in the old days, before Gilead, when they sunbathed wearing next to nothing. Offred remembers Moira throwing an “underwhore” party to sell sexy lingerie. She remembers reading stories in the papers about women who were murdered and raped, but even in the old days it seemed distant from her life and unrelated to her. Offred sits at the window, beside a cushion embroidered with the word Faith. It is the only word they have given her to read, and she spends many minutes looking at it. From her window, she watches the Commander get into his car and drive away.
Section 11 Edit
Offred says that yesterday she went to the doctor. Every month, a Guardian accompanies Offred to a doctor, who tests her for pregnancy and disease. At the doctor’s office, Offred undresses, pulling a sheet over her body. A sheet hangs down from the ceiling, cutting off the doctor’s view of her face. The doctor is not supposed to see her face or speak to her if he can help it. On this visit, though, he chatters cheerfully and then offers to help her. He says many of the Commanders are either too old to produce a child or are sterile, and he suggests that he could have sex with her and impregnate her. His use of the word “sterile” shocks Offred, for officially sterile men no longer exist. In Gilead, there are only fruitful women and barren women. Offred thinks him genuinely sympathetic to her plight, but she also realizes he enjoys his own empathy and his position of power. After a moment, she declines, saying it is too dangerous. If they are caught, they will both receive the death penalty. She tries to sound casual and grateful as she refuses, but she feels frightened. To revenge her refusal, the doctor could falsely report that she has a health problem, and then she would be sent to the Colonies with the “Unwomen.” Offred also feels frightened, she realizes, because she has been given a way out.
Section 12 Edit
It is one of Offred’s required bath days. The bathroom has no mirror, no razors, and no lock on the door. Cora sits outside, waiting for Offred. Offred’s own naked body seems strange to her, and she finds it hard to believe that she once wore bathing suits, letting people see her thighs and arms, her breasts and buttocks. Lying in the bath, she thinks of her daughter and remembers the time when a crazy woman tried to kidnap the little girl in the supermarket. The authorities in Gilead took Offred’s then-five-year-old child from her, and three years have passed since then. Offred has no mementos of her daughter. She remembers Aunt Lydia saying women should not get attached to things, and should “cultivate poverty of spirit.” Aunt Lydia cited the biblical sentiment “Blessed are the meek,” but she did not go on, as the Bible does, to add “for they shall inherit the earth.” Sometimes Offred thinks of her daughter as a ghost. She muses that the authorities were right: it is easier to think of your stolen children as dead. Cora, impatient, calls to her, and Offred gets out the bath. She looks down at her ankle, and sees the tattoo that Gilead places on all Handmaids. After the bath, she eats dinner, even though she does not feel hungry. The food is bland. Offred remembers Aunt Lydia saying that Handmaids are not allowed coffee, alcohol, or nicotine. She thinks of Serena and the Commander, eating below her, and wonders if the Commander ever notices his Wife. Handmaids are not allowed to keep uneaten food, but Offred wraps a pat of butter in a piece of the napkin and hides it in her shoe.
- "SparkNote on The Handmaid’s Tale." http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/handmaid/.
- Chapter transcript: