How does Atwood present the commander throughout the The Handmaid’s Tale novel? Essay
Throughout the novel the commander is presented as a complex and changing character to the reader, which is fitting as the readers perception of the commander constantly changes. His position in Gilead presents the rebellion along the chain of command as he is among the elite of the country yet is ruthless in his manners.The first perception that the reader is presented with to feel towards the commander is contempt and disgust, this becomes from the ceremony where he appears focused on the simple means of his duty, and seems unfazed by the whole event to the readers disgust, who is shocked and dismayed by the ceremony.
This is portrayed by Offreds description of the Commander seemingly preoccupied as if he is ‘drumming his fingers on the table’ this quote illustrates the customary approach of the commander who appears to take the event as normal every day life.The next perception that the reader is presented with is the commander’s faï¿½ade of asking Offred to his office, it is clear who has real supremacy and how far they intend to use it to manipulate people, especially those in the range below themselves.
He knows it is against society yet still takes the risks, Offred describes their meeting as illegal but for her to ‘refuse to see him could be worse, there is no doubt who holds the real power’ The commander simply manipulates Offred into following his lead as she knows what could happen if she doesn’t see him, by ‘worse’ she means she could be sent away and declared an unwoman or be placed on the wall.Differently than before, during their first visit the Commander is almost presented as a pitiable character.
By the use of ‘sheepish’ to describe his smile Atwood portrays him as almost an embarrassed schoolboy in his need for human exchange, which after the ceremony is a direct contrast to the feelings the reader held. Here Atwood presents him as a changing character and the reader holds ambivalent feelings towards him.In their own relationship as the meetings progress Offred describes the commander as ‘positively daddyish’ He is lonely and isolated throughout the regime and is willing to break rules in order to pursue human sexual contact, with Offred bearing the impact of this. His actions towards Offred are almost paternal, yet I think that the reader interprets him as more of a sugar daddy that keeps a mistress, leaving Offred as the other woman again, for sexual favours.
For him she is merely a ‘whim’, which shows how fickle society is. That people are used as just a bit of fun with no real interest in thoughts and feelings.Here the commander becomes more unlikable and the reader becomes to feel more unsympathetic towards him, as by keeping a mistress he is exploiting his status as it is ‘all about power’ he likes Offred to feel like he can do anything for her, almost to act out his sense of power before her. For example getting the magazine for her demonstrates the stance of influence he has as suchlike things were burned in the time before.
Offred’s description of the commander is often detached, and she makes associations rather than acknowledge him as a person, she likens him to a ‘museum guard’ which brings him down to a normal level of command and presents him as an average human being who has just been placed in the position of honour.Offred also mocks the Commander in her own small manor, she rarely gets the chance to scorn other people so by describing his chin as that ‘you really can’t miss it’ in her own little way is taking the chance to ridicule the man who gets to legally rape her once a month.Other peoples perception of the Commander such as Offred’s gives an even more multifaceted view of the Commander ‘I ought to feel hatred for this man..
. but it isn’t’ this quote shows that even Offred has complex and intricate feelings for the Commander and her feelings towards him you would expect to be black and white, pure hatred.The Commanders rebellion is heightened when he takes Offred to Jezebels, he firstly takes Serenas robe and effortlessly lets Offred wear it despite the loathing between them, and then he takes Offred out of the house and to a place, which in the time before would have probably have been a bar. By taking her and parading her on his arm the Commander looses complete respect from the reader Offred has to understand that she is ‘on display’ like a piece of meat, the commander is treating her as merely a body with no thoughts and no feelings yet tries to cover up the fact he is exploiting her by showing off to her and acting as though it is a priviledge to be at their little ‘club’ The Commander also revels in ‘breaking the rules under their noses’ here Offred is referring to society and how the Commander is showing everybody that he is more superior and so can cheat and break the rules of society.
He has also become more sordid and manipulative than ever before when her takes her up to the hotel room . Offred lies on the bed next to him and says ‘I don’t need to be told. I would rather not’ This shows the power and authority the Commander has over Offred, that he could take her into a hotel room and she automatically know what is expected of her.Ownership is also important at this part in the book.
Offred is not allowed to look at or talk to another man because she is branded as his, as shown by her tattoo and the way he admires the ‘ownership’ this presents the Commander is purely driven by power and ownership and that he likes the fact he is subtly able to remind Offred.Even during this incident Offred describes him as ‘not a monster’ and that she even ‘likes him’ Offred identifies to the reader the complex relationship that she has with the Commander, even through these circumstances she doesn’t hate him . It is through this view that the reader sees the Comander presented and so also has diverse, mixed feelings towards the Commander and his acts of rebellion.Throughout the novel Offred has a complex and varied relationship with the Commander, because Offred is the narrator the reader sees the commander through her views and also has a complicated understanding of him.
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