The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale Chapter 38 Summary
- The narrator finds the bathroom and goes in. An Aunt, who says she has fifteen minutes, guards the door. The narrator passes by a woman complaining that she wants to go in again and enters a familiar room. Unlike the Commander's house, there's a mirror.
- There are a bunch of women smoking, but no Moira. Then Moira appears and she and the narrator embrace. The narrator starts to cry and Moira tells her not to waste their precious time. She tells her to sit down and snags her a cigarette.
- Moira asks what she's doing there, and the narrator fills her in.
- Moira explains that some Commanders like bringing their Handmaids to the hotel for the combination of power trip and kinky sex. The narrator asks Moira to tell her what happened to her, then explains that what Moira told her, in the first person, and that she's trying to sound like Moira.
- Moira's story picks up basically where the narrator's knowledge of her second escape attempt left off. She doesn't kill Aunt Elizabeth and she doesn't really have a plan. She makes up a lot of stuff about her escape when she's being tortured, though.
- She just keeps walking and tries to figure out what to do. She figures most of the people she knew before have also been captured and it wouldn't be safe to try to reach them. So she heads north.
- She goes through some checkpoints and is terrified, but acts like an Aunt and gets through. She knows she's running out of time, though. She tries to remember who was on her section of a mailing list that she and some other resistance people divided up and memorized.
- She admits that she might have already given these people up under torture; she's not sure. But she picks an older couple of Quakers, who reluctantly take her in. She realizes later that people on the street didn't flag her in her disguise because Aunts and the Center were still kind of secret.
- She pees, has a sandwich, then plays with the kids. Then the couple takes her to another Quaker safe house.
- This is a station on the Underground Femaleroad. Moira explains what that's like and adds that a man smuggled her into the city in a mail sack. He was later caught and executed.
- Moira spends eight to nine months hiding and trying to make it across the border. She has a hard time staying with religious people because they pray at night, and that reminds her of the Center. But they're trying to help so she lets it go.
- She says she was close to making it. At the end, she's in a truck headed for Maine that's full of chickens. She's supposed to cross the border by boat, but something goes wrong. Officials come and capture her and the couple helping her. She doesn't know what happened to them after that.
- Moira is taken somewhere and bad things happen to her, but she doesn't describe them. She thinks about killing herself but has no opportunity. When the administration is done torturing her, they show her a movie about the Colonies. Moira describes them as terrible places where societal outcasts – old women, used-up Handmaids, gay men – are sent to work until they die. Some of the Colonies are so polluted that the people don't last long. Everyone is sterilized and they all have to wear gray dresses.
- Moira says she'd rather wear her cheap brothel outfit.
- The people in this unknown place let Moira choose between coming to be a sex worker at the hotel and going to the Colonies. She picked the hotel, saying who would choose otherwise. She says she doesn't even mind getting sterilized (which they require).
- Moira finishes her story by telling the narrator that it's not that bad. It buys a couple years that aren't too awful before facing the worst.
- The narrator worries about what happened to the old Moira. She needs Moira to be the braver one.
- Moira tries to lighten things up by saying it's not so bad for a lesbian where she is. She explains that the men don't mind and they refer to the hotel as "Jezebel's" (38.66).
- The narrator says she'd like to finish the story on a good note, with Moira's triumph, but after this night in the hotel she and Moira never met again.
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