Study Guide

The Handmaid's Tale Chapter 29

By Margaret Atwood

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Chapter 29

Soul Scrolls

  • The narrator and Commander are sitting across from each other in his office. They're both pretty relaxed. They are finishing up a Scrabble game, which she has won. He asks her if she would like to read something. She's been getting to read secretly during their meetings, which is better than sex.
  • She asks if they can talk instead. She prods him to talk so she won't have to. She asks him what he does and he says he's sort of like a scientist.
  • Finally she gets up the nerve to ask him what "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" means. She writes it down for him. Getting to write again fills her with a wave of power.
  • The Commander says it's like nonsense Latin. It's a joke phrase, meaning "don't let the bastards grind you down" (29.40).
  • The narrator realizes that the woman who was handmaid before her must have learned this from the Commander. She asks about her predecessor, and the Commander says she killed herself after the Wife found out.
  • The narrator realizes what this is all about for the Commander: he "want[s] [her] life to be bearable to [her]" (29.54). She realizes she has a little power over him; he doesn't want her to die, and she knows he feels bad about what happened.
  • He asks her what she would like, and she says knowledge about what's happening.

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