Using the extract as a starting point discuss how Atwood uses language in the novel as both a tool of oppression and a means of rebellion
“We play two games. Larynx, I spell… the letter C. Crisp and slightly acidic on the tongue. ” Scrabble is a game using random glossy letters to spell out words, and communicate. The words Larynx, Valance, Quince and Zygote are what Offred chooses to spell whilst sitting with the Commander using letters to make forbidden words and show oblique protest.
The general fact that Commander and Handmaid are playing a game is rebelling against regime rules that exist in Gileadean society, Both are in the wrong, not that Offred has much choice she decides to use this chance to communicate her feelings and reflect her life as a Handmaid using the well described “glossy counters with smooth edges”, is Offred getting pleasure from this?
A radical departure from the formality of their prescribed relationship. The words Offred goes on to spell with these glossy smooth edged counters shows the reader how this self conscious narrator is feeling, weighed down using the above specific words to make herself heard by the commander whilst laughing in his face, “Limp”, “Gorge”, more words she decides to spell.
Outside normal hours, without Serena Joys knowledge or presence, “it’s like sneaking into the dorm after hours” except it’s an “oasis of forbidden”. Books, men’s glossy magazines, television and a short wave radio (p220), all items forbidden by some degree by the regime. Offred, a “two legged womb” finds the Commanders proposal of a game of scrabble amusing, along with his “studied pose” over the fireplace, Offred wants to “shriek with laughter”.
The word oppression carries the meaning of being weighed down either in body or mind, for Offred I would assume she is weighed down by both, thoughts and flashbacks of freedom and the time before, constantly hoping for things to be ok, thinking what she wants to say, and knowing that now her body is used only for re-productive purposes as she describes almost everything to sound like a womb through strong imagery, she hasn’t even the right to her name but instead is referred to as Offred, property of her Commander Fred.
A game of scrabble gives Offred the chance to be rebellious and go against the regime, literally spell out what she feels, using language as the tool to unload oppression and shiny plastic counters to fill her sensual desires, “feeling voluptuous”, Offred is now unleashed. “We learned to whisper almost without a sound, in the semidarkness we would stretch out our arms when the aunts weren’t looking and touch each others hands across space” whilst “lip reading”.
Communication in Gilead has always been forbidden, and Offred ignores this and communicates when she gets the chance, her life is like being in prison, locked behind bars and life crowded with restrictions. Offred uses language also as a tool to describe her isolation from the world, flowers and sunlight being the only normal thing left existing in Gilead that she had in the time before.
Offred spends most of her time in the room that she has been assigned, refusing to call it her own “My”, showing the reader the clear message that she rebels, refusing to accept the regime, referring to the room as her own would show the reader Offred is ready to accept things the way they are and that she no longer wants to escape Gilead.
In this room Offred carefully describes everything “Above on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath” the wreath symbolizing death, “in the centre of it a blank space plastered over, they’ve removed anything you can tie a rope too” Offred spends enough time in this room to give a short emerging story about almost everything, when in the room alone has Offred thought about tying rope to something and committing suicide herself or has she heard this off somebody else, I personally believe Offred is not willing to give in to the regime to begin with and would have probably heard this off another handmaid or possibly a Martha through gossip or ear wigging. “when the window opens – it opens partly” all these descriptions show that Offred is not happy where she is and Gilead has taken steps to prevent her escaping in more than one way.
Offred possibly also plays with her language to amuse herself or to pass time, she obviously got physical delight whilst playing scrabble likening the counters to candy “like candies made of peppermint”, “delicious”. Instead of proclaiming her feelings out loud, she suppresses them. The result is a series of recordings, which describes her life, and the things she wishes she could change. Through these examples, it is apparent that Offred cannot face her problems because of outside circumstances. The whole game is a strong element of narrative surprise to the reader, not expected from the self conscious narrator. “That is a reconstruction too”.