In ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ the Commander is the most powerful authority figure in Offred’s world. He is a high-ranking governement official and he is the head of the ‘household’ that Offred has been ‘assigned’ to. The Handmaids are defined solely through their bodies and their Commander and in chapter 15 we see why. The chapter begins with the Commander knocking at the door, the knock is ‘prescribed’, this gives the chapter an isolated, clinical feel now that the Commander is entering his wife’s ‘territory’
Atwood’s use of language here is very effective, she says how the Commander ‘is supposed to ask permisson to enter’ and how Serena Joy ‘likes to keep him waiting’. This shows the reader the awkwardness and power in the Commander & his wife’s relationship. Serena Joy in the next chapter is about to have her role as a wife violated, she is taking advantage of the power she has over the ‘Household’ because in the next chapter she is powerless to the Ceremony. Atwood then uses a rhetorical question ‘Who knows what she said to him, over the silver-encrusted dinner table?
Or didnt say’ to keep the reader interested and get the reader thinking about the relationship between this husband and wife. The Commander is described by Atwood as a ‘museum guard’ in his black uniform. he is then describes as a ‘semi-retired man, genial but wary, killing time. But only at first glance’, this is important as Atwood is hinting to the reader that all is not what is seems at ‘first glance’ not just in this chapter but throughout the novel. Atwood’s description of the Commander’s ‘straight, neatly brushed silver hair… his sober posture…
shoulders a little stooped’, the description of his shoulders suggests that not only is the Commander feeling awkward but embarrassed aswell. The description continues with the Commander’s eyes being described as ‘falsely innocuous’, meaning falsely harmless, this adds to the the feeling that nothing is what it appears to be’. The Commander looks at the ‘household’ as though they are ‘inventory… something he inherited.. he hasnt figured out what to do with us… what we are worth’, the Commander thinks of these people, his wife, chauffeur, handmaid and house servants as objects, this adds to the emotionless atmosphere to the chapter.
The relationship between the Comander and his wife is revealed again in this chapter, Atwood describes how the Commander ‘nods, in the direction of Serena Joy, who does not make a sound’, there is a lack of communication between them and it is on full view for the rest of the household to see. The Commander proceeds to unlock an ornate box, the word ‘ornate’ is perfect for this box and chapter as everyone is in a complicated situation. The contents of this box is a bible which is ‘kept locked up’
the way people ‘kept tea locked up’, tea was very expensive therefore precious, the Bible can also be seen as precious because this society is based on Biblical teachings. However the Bible is almost described as dangerous to this society, ‘it is an incendiary device.. who knows what we would make of it’. The Commander reads this ‘device’ and the household are ‘expectant… here comes our bedtime story’, this adds to this view of first apperances are dangerous, this ‘falsely innocuous’ man is now reading his ‘household’ a bedtime story from the Bible.
Atwood again, describes the Commander as a ‘shoemaker in an old fairytale book’, she asks another rhetorical question to make the reader think again about the impression of the Commander: ‘Is there no end to his disguises, of benevolence? ‘ Atwood then uses language to evoke sympathy for the Commander, ‘To be a man, watched by women. It must be entirely strange’, she also uses the repetition of ‘To have them’ to evoke sypathy for example, ‘To have them watching him all the time… To have them flinch when he moves.. To have them sizing him up’.
Atwood’s use of effective language doesn’t stop there, she then goes on to say how the Commander is ‘like a sock over a foot’, ‘To have them putting him on, trying him out.. ‘ this could reflect Offred’s situation, as she is just an object who is ‘tried out’. Still continuing with the ‘like a sock over a foot’ similie Atwood uses adjectives such as ‘ expands… bulging… grows big… ‘ and they may also reflect the Handmaids as these are words usually associated with pregnancy. The Commander is describes as on a ‘journey into darkness that is composed of women, a woman, who can see in darkness while he himself strains blindly forward’.
This suggests several things, the ‘journey of darkness’ could be the view of this dystopian society which the Commander is clearly ‘blind’ to,(he fulfills his legal obligations within his household but does so without conviction) and the only person who can ‘see in darkness’ is a woman, this could be Offred, as she is so far seen to be against this society. Atwood uses language to create an intense and uncomfortable atmosphere, for example, ‘She watched him from within… We’re all watching him’ since he has entered the room the Commander has been watched by all. Again, Atwood uses a similie to describe the Commander: he is ‘like a boot…
Hard on the outside, giving shape to a pulp of a tenderfoot’, this is another effective use of language in Atwood’s presentation of the Commander. The final use of repetition in Chapter 15 is very effective, Atwood is still trying to evoke sympathy ‘Still it must be hell, to be a man, like that’ but then she corrects herself ‘It must be just fine… It must be hell… It must be very silent’. Atwood is showing that she has not made a decision about whether the Commander is a ‘hard’ man who is emotionless, if he was this situation would be ‘just fine’, however if not then his situation ‘must be hell’.