‘Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum’ picks up where ‘Late’ left us. Offred is locked in her room as punishment for not being pregnant, but we are now seeing her weeks after the Wife threw her in the room. With so much time to herself, she explores the room and finds Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum carved into the wall in her closet. She knows it is latin, but she knows not what it means. This episode is a story of rebellion.
“It sounds like forced surrogacy to me” oh Moira. If only we could warn her it’s so much worse than that. The first flashback is a glimpse into Moira and Offred’s friendship after they were taken in to be Handmaidens, but before their tasks had begun. Their secret moments together were stolen, but important.
Here is where Moira finds out that it’s not a “turkey baster” as she put it, but the truth of how the Handmaiden’s are expected to become pregnant. Using the tale of a concubine from the old testament to legitimize it, the Aunts train the Handmaiden’s on how to lay silently between the legs of the wives.
For those of you who didn’t read the book, there was a slight change in this scene from the book. In the book, Offred was neither present nor assisting in Moira’s escape. In this scene, Moira and Offred kidnap an Aunt, take her to the basement, and steal her clothing in an effort to escape. Moira wears the clothing of an aunt, which is enough to sway the guards to let them out the gate. But without street signs, maps, or directions, they couldn’t get far. When stopping to ask for directions, they are questioned, and in a heart wrenchingly silent scene, Offred sends Moira on her way to potential freedom, while falling on a sword.
Even Commander Waterford’s body is rebelling against him in this episode. The scene of him and his wife is oddly humanizing for both of them. We see a peek at their own feelings regarding the current state of the world. For the first time, we see that it may not be what either of them wanted either. But it’s important to remember that they are just the privileged ones who were granted a much better place in the world.
Towards the end of the episode, Offred asks the Commander for a translation of Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum. He explains it doesn’t really mean anything, it’s a joke, and it’s only funny if you know latin. But then he explains, loosly translated, it means “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. It’s a perfect phrase to sum up the silent rebellion of this episode. Offred is resisting the oppression. It’s also in this scene we find out why the Commander invited her to scrabble games. The previous Handmaiden committed suicide because her life was unbearable. He doesn’t want that to happen to Offred, so he is trying to make her life bearable. This is where Offred finds her power. She can use his sympathy and his desire to keep her alive, to survive. To get out of the room.
In the conclusion of Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, Offred is free… of her room at least. We see how there is a rebellion among the Handmaidens, present in their support of each other. This is something we can all remember. While we all may not be suffering the same way, we can all stand together to make it a little more tolerable. How deep does this bond between handmaidens go? Will Offred trust any of them with the knowledge she’s gained? Can she?
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Shannon has a degree in Sociology and Women's Studies from the University of Northern Colorado, where she composed her award winning and nationally presented senior thesis titled "Behind the Shield and Under the Sheets: Sex and Sexuality in a Live Action Role Playing Game"
If this is not a statement of her nerdy feminism, what more could there be?
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