Chapter VIII: Birth Day is the 8th chapter of The Handmaid's Tale (Novel). It contains section 19-23.
Section 19 Edit
Offred dreams of catching her daughter in a hug, but a wave of sorrow overtakes her because she knows that she is dreaming. She dreams of waking up to her mother carrying in a tray a food and taking care of her. At breakfast, Offred contemplates the beauty of a boiled egg in sunlight. The sound of sirens interrupt her breakfast; it is a Birthmobile, coming to collect Offred and take her to a birth. Janine, now known as Ofwarren, is about to have her baby.
During the ride to Commander Warren’s house, Offred wonders if Janine will give birth to a deformed child, an Unbaby. One in four women have been poisoned by toxins and other environmental pollution, which leads to birth deformities in their children. She recalls Aunt Lydia saying that women who did not want to have babies poisoned their own bodies or got their tubes tied. She calls these women Jezebels, scorners of God’s gifts. In an old classroom, Aunt Lydia showed them a graph of how the birthrate had fallen over the course of history, eventually falling below the “line of replacement.” Aunt Lydia said that women who did not want to breed were lazy sluts. She explains how much better childbirth is in Gilead in contrast to the old days, because birth is entirely natural. Women are not even allowed drugs to soothe their pain, because it is better for the baby, and because God wants women to suffer during childbirth.
The Birthmobile arrives at the home of Ofwarren’s Commander, and the Handmaids file in. Then another Birthmobile pulls up, the one that carries the Wives. Offred imagines the Wives sitting around and talking about their Handmaids, calling them sluts, complaining about how unclean they are.
Section 20 Edit
While Ofwarren gives birth, Commander Warren's Wife lies in the sitting room as if she is giving birth. Janine lies in the master bedroom, and the Handmaids gather around the bed to watch. Offred remembers how the Aunts used to show the Handmaids pornographic movies in which men practiced violent sex on women. Aunt Lydia said that was how men thought of women in the old days. One movie was about “Unwomen,” feminists from the days before Gilead. The Aunts did not play the soundtrack, because they did not want the Handmaids to hear what the women said.In one of these movies, Offred saw her mother as a young woman, marching in a feminist rally. Her mother gave birth to Offred in her late thirties and chose to be a single mother. Offred and her mother used to fight, because her mother thought Offred did not appreciate the sacrifices early feminists made in order to help the next generation of women. Offred wishes she could have her mother back, fights and all.
Section 21 Edit
The Handmaids chant to help Janine give birth. One Handmaid asks Offred if she is looking for someone. Offred describes Moira, and the woman tells her she will keep an eye out for a woman of that description. The woman is looking for someone named Alma. She asks Offred what her real name is, but before Offred can reply, their conversation is cut short by a suspicious glance from an Aunt who heard the break in the chant. Just before the child is born, Janine (Ofwarren) and the Wife of Warren sit on the Birthing Stool together. The Wife sits above Janine. The baby is born: a girl with no visible defects. Everyone rejoices. The Wife climbs into bed, and the baby is given to her. The other Wives crowd around, pushing the Handmaids aside, and the Wife announces she will name the baby Angela. After the birth, Janine will nurse the baby for a few months, and then she will transfer to a new Commander. Since she has produced a child, she will never be declared an Unwoman and sent to the Colonies.
Section 22 Edit
Driving back from the birth, Offred remembers Moira’s escape from the Red Center. Moira caused a toilet to overflow, and while Aunt Elizabeth tried to fix it, Moira jabbed a metal object into Aunt Elizabeth’s ribs and forced her into the furnace room. The object was a long lever from the toilet, but Aunt Elizabeth thought it was a knife. After exchanging clothing with Aunt Elizabeth and tying her up, Moira boldly walked out of the center using Aunt Elizabeth’s pass. No one has seen Moira or heard from her since then.
Section 23 Edit
At home, Offred tells Cora about the child, and the Martha expresses her hope that “they” (meaning Offred) will have a child soon. That night, Offred sneaks out of her room and meets the Commander in his office. She braces herself for a forced physical advance. If Serena were to discover that Offred was with the Commander in his study, she could be sent to the Colonies as an Unwoman. But if she were to refuse the Commander, there could be even more dire consequences, because he has the real power in the household.
The Commander's room
Offred eyes the walls of the study, which are filled with books. The Commander greets her in the old way, by saying “Hello,” and Offred doesn’t know how to reply. To her surprise, the Commander merely asks her to play a game of Scrabble. This is forbidden, since any kind of reading is forbidden to women. They play two games, and the game feels luxurious to Offred. As she is about to leave, the Commander asks her for a kiss. She imagines coming to his study again with a piece of metal from the toilet, as Moira did, putting her arms around him and killing him. She kisses him, and he says sadly he wanted her to kiss him “‘as if [she] meant it.’”
- "SparkNote on The Handmaid’s Tale." http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/handmaid/.
- Chapter transcript: