Study Guide

The Handmaid's Tale Chapter 42

By Margaret Atwood

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Chapter 42


  • A bell is ringing. The narrator is somewhere in a line of women, arranged in twos, going past the Wall to a Salvaging. They found out they were going the previous day.
  • The women file onto the lawn by the library, where a stage is set up. It has three poles on it with ropes attached to them. There hasn't been an event like this in two years.
  • The narrator says she doesn't want to tell this part of the tale.
  • The lawn is full of Wives, Econowives, Marthas, and Handmaids, all segregated by class. The Handmaids kneel in front.
  • The weather is pleasant. The narrator tries to distract herself with thoughts of sex.
  • A long rope winds among and around all the chairs. The narrator can see three women on the stage, a Wife and two Handmaids. She wonders if they are drugged or restricted.
  • Several official figures arrive, including Aunt Lydia. Aunt Lydia gives a speech, but the narrator doesn't really listen. She's heard it before.
  • Aunt Lydia says that usually they read out the crimes of the people being Salvaged, but now they don't anymore because people had been imitating them.
  • The people in attendance are disappointed. The narrator tries to imagine what crimes the women might have committed—murder or attempted murder, maybe.
  • One of the Handmaids, Ofcharles, is announced. She tries to wink at the camera (the narrator says the administration won't actually show it on TV) while men restrict her hands. The narrator hears someone throw up.
  • Instead of describing what happens next, the narrator shifts to the past tense and describes what has happened before when a woman has been hanged for a crime. She describes how all the audience has to pull on the rope that goes around them so they are all taking part in the execution.
  • She doesn't want to this time, so she looks away.

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