The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale Passivity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
These pictures [of nineteenth-century harems] were supposed to be erotic, and I thought they were, at the time; but I see now what they were really about. They were paintings about suspended animation; about waiting, about objects not in use. They were paintings about boredom.
But maybe boredom is erotic, when women do it, for men. (13.1-2)
The narrator is in a state of "suspended animation," just like the women in the paintings. If they were "about objects not in use," she too is an object, and not only is she not being used, she's being kept from using the very parts of herself that made her a person rather than an object.
I do not say making love, because this is not what he's doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose. (16.7)
The narrator is describing a sex scene for which three people are present but "only one is involved." In fact, she has no choice but to use a vulgar word to describe the sex taking place because all other descriptors include an element that isn't present here.
Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn't really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing. (23.4)
Here the narrator separates the issues of forgiveness and control, digressing about whether the real question in all of this is who can command forgiveness while participating in the terrible things society has endorsed. Of course, it is mostly academic for her, as she has very little power herself.