We first met the Commander within Offred’s description of his appearance just before the impregnating ceremony. ‘His black uniform, in which he looks like a museum guard. A semi-retired man… midwestern bank president… ‘ his appearance, in Offred’s eyes is morphing which ultimately means that his personality is too altering and changing. We can see that there is no clear way of distinguishing his true character and that throughout the book we will have to question his intentions. Later in the same chapter he’s eyes are described as being ‘falsely innocent’ and his personality ‘he’s given no evidence of softness’.
This forms an image of corruption and pretence. We don’t meet the Commander again until the 23rd chapter and in this chapter a drastic advance takes place he wants Offred to meet him in his office, again Atwood is playing with our minds she keeps us wondering about what he wants. Straight away we find out from Offred that ‘ this act tells me he hasn’t brought me here to touch me … against my will’ and ‘the smile is not sinister or predatory’, again we don’t know he motive and the operative word in this sentence is ‘act’. Is he just acting to make Offred like him? We don’t know.
He asks her to play scrabble. Fairly innocent. However at the end of the evening he says ‘I want you to kiss me’ which shows us his corrupt. It as if he entered Offred into a secret deal, scrabble in exchange for the kiss, which of course she has no say in. ‘Staring at the magazine, as he dangled it before me, like fish bait. ‘ He knows how valuable this magazine is to Offred but I feel that he likes to watch her hunger for the things she wants. It makes him feel good about himself but also I think he wants someone to want him like Offred wants the magazine with lust and desire.
This makes me think that he is more corrupt than sympathetic, although if you really wanted to you could almost feel sorry him. ‘The Commander was patient’ like a parent is with its child. Offred also pick up on this analogy ‘he is positively dandyish’. This patients, to me at least, does not tell me he is a sympathetic character on the contrary I believe this sort of behaviour is patronising and diminishing. Similarly to his reaction on how they keep their skin moisturised ‘that’s very clever. Butter. He laughed. ‘
Additionally, he does this diminishing to Offred in another way. Throughout their time together he is always watching her ‘without taking his eyes off me, this watching is a curiously sexual act, and I feel undressed while he odes it. ‘ He appears sleazy and this with the combination of the dandyish figure is extremely perverted showing the corruption of the Commander and the Giliadian society. There is another example of the Commanders arrogance, whilst playing scrabble with Offred he gives her a point ‘ I’ll give it to you’. I’ll’ he is in some kind of control of her, her intelligence, which in actual fact he is because the regime she lives in was created partly by him. Like with the magazine the Commander also mock Offred’s Latin phrase ‘That’s just a joke. ‘ It seems like any chance he gets to put her down or downgrades her he does.
However I don’t think it’s always deliberate, in the opposite I feel that this is part of who he is, both as a Commander and in general a human being. The commander asks her what she thinks of the regime ‘ I’d like to know what you think…
I’m interested in your opinion. ‘ She does not reply and then he goes on to say ‘Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse for some one ‘ obviously referring to Offred. This seems sympathetic however to me it comes across more as a justification and one where he avoids blaming himself for Offred’s situation. Additionally this happens when they are talking about love and what they have done to the woman ‘We’ve given them more than we’ve taken away’ and ‘was it really worth it falling in love. This quote above everything ells makes the reader feel pity for the Commander. He’s ignorance pathetic. Whilst discussing the subjects above Offred’s fear is limited ‘ Its hard to be afraid of a man who is sitting watching you put on hand lotion. ‘ Also ‘watching me… with intent bright eyes… I would think it was fear. ‘ These two quotations suggest that the Commander is a sympathetic character, sometimes. ‘
Nevertheless Atwood, by introducing Jezebels into the novel twist the Commander into a corrupt character. ‘ He’s holding it seems a handful of feathers. ‘ ‘Now for the face. He dresses Offred up like a rag doll the way pimps do with their hookers. ‘He slips a tag around my waist’ this indicated ownership. Everything that night is ‘little one’, ‘little excitement’, ‘little surprise’ once gain tying in with the perverted figure the way old men lure children in. Alongside the commander being corrupt he is extremely hypocritical. ‘ You cant cheat nature’ referring to sex. He contradicts himself because that is what he and Gilead have done. Presenting Offred like a prostitute also ties in with’ has a room key… ‘ ‘He shows it to me, slyly.
I am to understand’ obviously he wants her to have sex with him but more importantly he wants her to want to have sex with him like she wanted the magazine. This is also suggested when he asks for a kiss;’I want you to kiss me’, ‘ as if you mean it. ‘ Even with his bad side, I think like any other human he wants to feel and I think to a certain extent he regrets t5he position he has put himself in. this is seen when he get exited about when he was a school boy and used to write fake Latin. ‘His laughter is nostalgic… He stops retuning to the present embarrassed. When trying to justify himself and what the regime has done I think its more him trying to make himself feel better and convince himself what he has done I the right thing rather than him actually believing in the regime.
This doesn’t make him a sympathetic character but rather the reader feel some sort of distorted version of sympathy towards him. We really see his weakness and the faced come down just before they are about to have sex. ‘He’s down to his shirt… a little belly… wisps of hair. ‘ He doesn’t seem so powerful now in fact he seems pathetic.
Offred states that’ without his uniform he looks smaller, older, Like something being dried up’ The commander doesn’t seem so corrupt and vicious but dismal and weak. Consequently we truly see him breakdown when Offred gets taken away ‘His hair is very grey. he looks worried… I am to him at this point a disaster. ‘ The Commander has been with the other handmaids before Offred I suppose we can suggest that they keep him going, without them he has no life. Offred like the others is an escape route where he can fulfil his desires in a different world whereas he cannot in the one he has created.
Due to his arrogance he with never go back on his beliefs and so to loose Offred is like loosing a lifeline. Having analysed the Commander behaviour I have not come to a firm conclusion I do think he has some type of sympathy but in what form I cannot clarify. However he definitely has corruption within him but also like Offred I can’t help feeling sorry for him. ‘I still have it in me to feel sorry for him’ I know that whatever he gave or showed Offred was in the end for his own benefit. I pity his inexperience in life and this missing ‘love’ that he never got.