Jezebel’s – a state-owned men’s club in Gilead - The Handmaid's Tale Analysis
25. Mai '20
1. Collect all the information given about the location, the guests, and the women working there and their working conditions. 2. Analyze Offred’s emotional response to the different stages of her “evening out”, starting with her putting on the costume in the Commander’s room, up to the sex with him in the hotel room.
1. The men’s club Jezebel’s is located in a former hotel, in which Offred has met Luke several times in her “former life”, as she remembers (cf. p. 237 ll. 43f.). In the centre of the hotel, there is a wide and high courtyard, which “goes up several storeys to a skylight at the top” (ibid. ll. 37f.). Offred describes a fountain in the middle of it “spraying water in the shape of a dandelion gone to seed” (ibid. ll. 39f.), which is surrounded by potted plants, trees sprouts and vines hanging down from the balconies (cf. ibid. ll. 40f.). “Oval-sided glass elevators slid[ing] up and down the walls [...]” (ibid. ll. 41f.) complement the scenery. In the hotel lobby, there is at least one puffy flowered sofa like it, according to Offred, used to be typical for hotels once ago (cf. p. 239 l. 50f.). Furthermore, the narrator depicts the corridors of the hotel as “softly lit and carpeted [...] in a mushroom color, browny pink” (p. 237 ll. 31f.) with numbered doors on the sides. The hotel room in which Offred and the Commander later have sex is also the same as in former times; Offred recognizes the “heavy flowered” (p. 253 ll. 45f.) drapes, the bureau and the bedside tables, the lamps and the pictures on the wall (cf. ibid. ll. 47ff.).
The men are clothed in “dark uniforms or suits” (p. 237 l. 50), thus looking rather similar to one another. Having a further look, Offred realizes that the guests are in fact more heterogeneous after spotting a group of Japanese “in lightish suites” (p. 239 ll. 60f.) and Arabs dressed in white (cf. ibid. ll. 59ff.). As the Commander states, the club is only for officers from all branches, senior officials and trade delegations (p. 240 ll. 23f.). Jezebel’s is, therefore, a “good place to meet people” (ibid. l. 25), stimulating trade and fostering business.
As a brothel, Jezebel’s is full of women, who are “sitting, lounging, strolling, leaning against one another” (p. 237 ll. 49f.). In contrast to the men, Offred perceives the appearance of the women, who are dressed “in all kinds of bright festive gear” (ibid. l. 53), as “tropical” (ibid. l. 52). The spectrum of dresses ranges from feather and glister outfits like Offred wears and olden-day lingerie to bathing suits and exercise costumes (cf. ibid. ll. 53ff.). All of the women wear makeup, which reminds Offred of a “masquerade party” (p. 238 l. 10). While some of them are former working girls, the former professions of the other women vary recognisable, with some having been sociologists, lawyers or executives (cf. p. 240 ll. 30ff.). The Commander calls this variety pejoratively “quite a collection” (ibid. l. 34), emphasizing the different social backgrounds of the working women. Moreover, the women have to watch their weight meticulously due to strict regulations, which is indicated by the joking of the Commander of sending the girls who gain weight to solitary (cf. p. 241 ll. 46ff.). On the other hand, the Commander points out the absence of “nicotine-and-alcohol taboos” (ibid. l. 53) as a possible advantage of working at Jezebel’s. Additionally, Moira reports that the sex workers are allowed to use face cream, the food is alright, the women only have to work nights and are free to plan their leisure time (cf. p. 252 ll. 5ff.), which leads her to the conclusion: “[I]t’s not so bad [here]” (ibid. l. 21). However, the prostitutes are really likely forced to work at Jezebel’s by not being given a real alternative as in Moira’s case. After she got caught at Gilead’s border, she had to choose between cleaning up toxic dumps in the Colonies, which would ultimately mean death after a few years, and the work in the men’s club (cf. p. 251 ll. 42ff.). This procedure is also suggested by the Commander, who implies that the women would prefer their work “[t]o the alternatives” (p. 241 l. 41).
2. Offred’s emotional response to her evening out can be described as rather pragmatic and ambivalent. This will now be analyzed in further detail by taking her behaviour and thoughts in the different stages of her “trip” into consideration.
When Offred puts on the costume at the beginning, she does not seem to be averse to variety at all. While she acts “prudish [and] disapproving” (p. 233 l. 52) on the outside to let the Commander think she is doing him a favour, she secretly admits that there “is something attractive in the idea” (ibid.) to wear the costume and sees a kind of freedom in doing something which is considered sinful in Gilead (cf. ibid. ll. 58f.). After she learns that the Commander is going to take her out, she is even pleased with “anything that breaks the monotony [and] subverts the perceived respectable order of things” (p. 234 ll. 5f.). Sitting in the car, Offred feels excited and nervous about the subversive plan to smuggle her through the checkpoints, which can be concluded from her “heavy pounding” heart and “the pressure of blood” (both p. 235 ll. 54f.) in her head. Offred’s attempts to establish contact with Nick as well as her thoughts on how he might feel (e. g. “[D]oes this make him angry or lustful [...] or anything at all?”, ibid. ll. 45f.) are striking, too, demonstrating how Offred cares much more about Nick than the Commander, whom she is firstly rather neutral and indifferent towards.
Having arrived at Jezebel’s, Offred seems relieved about the unusual relaxed character of the place. Without the white hood that she usually has to wear she can stare around freely and feels “as if a weight has been removed from [her head]” (p. 237 l. 47). Moreover, her emotional state can be described as quite differentiated and ambivalent: As Offred states, she feels “not one simple thing” (p. 238 l. 20) and points out that she is at least not dismayed or shocked by the women working at Jezebel’s (cf. ibid. ll. 20ff.). In response to being shown off by the Commander and being examined by the other men, she calls the whole act “juvenile” and “pathetic” (both p. 239 l. 48), but on the other hand, even shows some understanding (“[I]t’s something I understand”, ibid. ll. 48f.). This ambivalence is also evident when for one thing she feels fed up with the Commander and she would like to freeze one him, but then again reminds herself that she cannot afford such behaviour in her situation and also sees some value in “an evening out” (p. 240 ll. 18f.). Again, she has to admit that she “[s]ecretly [...] like[s] the idea” (p. 241 l. 55) of having a drink, which emphasizes her pragmatism, too.
When she unexpectedly reunites with Moira in the washroom, Offred’s emotional reaction is quite intense (“Then I begin to cry.”, p. 245 l. 50). However, the initial happiness quickly gives way to a certain irritation over Moiras apparent resignation (cf. p. 252 ll. 10ff.). While Offred expects “gallantry [...], swashbuckling, heroism [and] single-handed combat” (ibid. ll. 17f.) from her, Moira has actually come to terms with her situation already. Moira's attitude has thus basically come closer to that of Offred, who e.g. handles the news about her mother's fate quite well and calm by stating laconically: “I’ve mourned for her already.” (p. 255 l. 64). Offred's thoughts in the last stage of her evening out in the hotel room with the Commander also follow this pragmatic pattern. Although she has a strong personal dislike for the Commander in this particular situation and states that she does not “want to be alone with him, not on a bed” (p. 256 p. 19f.), she still reminds herself that “he is not an unkind man” (ibid. ll. 29) and “not a monster” (ibid. l. 38f.), and even in the unpleasant situation of being forced to have sex with him she finds nevertheless some comfort in smaller things like the comfortable toilets (“There is something reassuring about the toilets.”, p. 253 l. 59). While her personal aversion also becomes manifest in her lying on the bed “like a dead bird” (p. 256 l. 38) and she emphasizes her difficulties in freeing herself from the usual passivity of the ceremony (“Usually I’m inert.”, p. 257 l. 44) she still adapts to the circumstances and tries everything to fake passion as it is expected of her (cf. ibid. ll. 47f.).
In conclusion, Offred’s emotional response to her evening out can be described as rather pragmatic and ambivalent. Although she has a distinct personal aversion of having sex with the Commander, Offred behaves as expected and even finds joy in the variety that the trip brings. In contrast to the events in the hotel room, which she does not let get really close to her, she still reacts very strongly and emotionally to the reunion with her old friend Moira.