What is the importance of Nick in Margaret Atwood’s ‘Handmaid’s tale’?

January 21, 2018 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

Nick is a very complex character. The author presents us with an uncertain character that we’re not entirely sure about. Firstly Nick is a male and males in this society are very different from normal society. Males in Offred’s life; the Commander, Luke, Nick is all so different from each other. But Nick is probably the most mysterious since we know exactly where we are, as the reader and Offred stand with the other two. Nick on the other hand is an enigma, a man with secret intentions, questionable loyalty and uncertain motives, even Offred’s character isn’t sure of him showing a lot of suspicion in the end of the novel when he was taking her away. Nick to me is very important to the whole story, he is the mystery factor of the novel, the Cigarette-Smoking-Man (X-files) of the plot, the one who knows things others don’t, which I think every story through history has.

From the very beginning Nick is introduced in a very intriguing manner. Unlike other people in the society, he appears confident, happy and even jaunty. He had his hat on in a jaunty angle, cleaning a car like he was caressing a lover, whistling, indulging in the forbidden pleasure of a cigarette and even made eyecontact and winked at Offred which is very highly forbidden. Through the eyes of Offred we see Nick in a very sexy angle. Offred is attracted, fascinated and even afraid of Nick, of what he could be. He stands out too much, he is too ‘casual’ and ‘not servile’ enough considering his low social position. In a strictly defined society, he is an oddball, barely following the rules.

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Meanwhile the Commander compared to Nick is a very different proposition altogether. When he first appeared it was in their very first Ceremony. Nick as well as the whole household was there to witness the event. Before the Commander actually arrived Nick made two attempts of physical contact with Offred. Although brief it is highly forbidden. This leads us to the conclusion that he is taking unnecessary risks maybe for the fun of it, or maybe as a test of character to Offred. With this physical contact came the recollection of Luke and her family. She remembered the last days they were a family together. It may have something to do with the physical contact Offred is starved of as was indicated in chapter 2 when she said that she ‘hungers to commit the act of touch’. Another time she was reminded of Luke was after Offred’s and Nick’s late night meeting when he kissed and caressed her.

She remembered Luke caressing he bloated tummy when she was pregnant suggesting intimacy and sensuality. Offred is starved of love and affection, and since Nick reminds her of the feeling of lust and attraction, which she probably had, in abundance with Luke, she is not slow into acting it up although she is still wary of Nick and his intentions. Atwood may be using Nick’s character as a pivotal point to this story. It makes Offred’s character question everything around her, this doesn’t allow her to be passive for long. Since his character also gave her the chance to feel sensual again and experiencing her past this adds up to the point that he, Nick, helps Offred’s character development in the readers eyes as he triggers the memories of her time with Luke, the time when she was free. Nick also brings forth the other side of Offred. The long forgotten but not quite buried one.

When the Commander finally arrived for the ceremony, he seemed almost childlike, confused but willing to play the game. He is uncomfortable with the whole situation, and as Offred described him, ’embarrassed’. He does his duty without relish, he is insecure like a sad boy we see later on in the novel when he invites Offred in his study for company and some intimacy. Again Nick is exactly the opposite. Although he has ‘given no evidence of softness’, he is still not as confident as Nick, given the way Nick kissed Offred immediately in their late night meeting and the way the Commander seems to expect to give before he receives the intimacy he is so curious to try.

The Commander gives Offred this tiny offerings of forbidden, like the scrabble games and the magazines, on their nightly library meetings which Nick himself is involved in. he is the go-between of the two, the one who passes messages between the Commander and Offred. His involvements in the highly unethical meetings aren’t discussed between them even after they became intimate later on in the novel. But who knows who he reports this to. The involvement probably gains him a certain amount of power or leverage against the Commander. But we are not really sure why he does what he does. It is obvious that he is also attracted to Offred and he does have his job and especially his life to consider, why does he take such risks? Offred is definitely in the dark and we readers are challenged by Atwood to guess or interpret it ourselves. This method of writing is highly provocative to the reader and keeps us reading so there is the possibility that Atwood presented this character to be the dangling bait designed to keep us reading. Anyway we can be sure that he wont be telling anyone anytime soon because he seems to know the system and he ‘is’ the Commander’s confidant. He may be aiming for a higher status, or just ensuring his day to day comforts, or maybe reporting to the eyes or even compiling information for the Mayday freedom movement to use against the Commander, we don’t really know.

But Nick is shadowed by a much pressing problem, the Commander. The Commander is in a way Offred’s masters except they are not supposed to meet at all outside the soulless Ceremony. But the Commander, a kind of insecure boy seeking companionship is willing to take the risks to get this companionship he so craves like the time he reached out to touch Offred during the ceremony in front of his wife. It may be that Serena Joy is a proper wife who follows the rules of estrangement or maybe they just don’t like each other very much but in all this comes Offred. A woman completely in his power with him pulling the puppet strings. It maybe that he is too characteristically flawed and that he likes those below his standing. But he did have the courage to take the risks of taking a mistress under the marriage roof and under his wife’s nose. He is a very sad man because he maintains his power and public face by sacrificing his own wishes and desires. But being the underhanded dog that he is, he does find some solace secretly, not only with Offred but with the club Jezebel’s too which Nick also knows about.

He treated her like a whore, a new toy to be shown off to his associates in exchange for the dress, combs, hair clips, jewelry, shoes and alcohol. He also expected Offred to sleep with him as payment in a more intimate manner far from the robotic and ritualistic Ceremony. But Nick doesn’t do that. When he and Offred started their intimate relationship, it was at the order of Serena Joy, in a desperate bid for Offred to conceive. Again Nick allows himself to be used, first by the Commander, then by Serena Joy and even Offred herself. Everyone gets something in that relationship although it was supposedly only for a night. Nick was to receive a woman; Offred some real passion and affection; Serena Joy a child. Nick doesn’t have to give anything to Offred unlike the Commander. Just his presence and solace. He doesn’t even speak that much to her. We also don’t know what he’s thinking because he isn’t allowed to speak. We only see him in Offred’s narrow vision. We can’t see his motives because although she questions it, she doesn’t dwell on it. Nick’s role here is painfully clear. He is a tool utilized by Atwood to make comparison, juxtaposition between the Commander and him since they are of very different personality.

Then there is Luke. Luke who was also forbidden much like the Commander and Nick. But Luke was off-limits for another reason, he was married. At the beginning of their relationship it was an act of adultery. They met in hotel rooms mch like the meeting of Nick in his room. Married man or not, she loved and lusted after Luke. In time she became pregnant and Luke left his wife to be with them. He is seen as a normal guy, very normal who worries about small things like plastic bags would choke their daughter or arguing with his mother-in-law and even laughing at quite serious news reports. He was presented as open and happy and to Offred’s eyes a generally great guy. He doesn’t have the sneakiness of Nick or the underhandedness of the Commander. After reading about these three men one gets the idea that Offred likes who she is not allowed to have. She maybe a submissive woman who is dominated by the men in her life and men see these traits and exploit it to their own ends. She usually gets flashbacks of her past life but that gradually faded in the last parts of the novel.

In all this we still don’t know Nick’s motives and loyalty. Even Offred begins to wonder. Wonder what he gets from holding so much knowledge. Wonder what he gets as an exchange to ‘pimping in this ambiguous way’ to use Offreds speech for the Commander. Offred believes he had to have some kind of payment for his contribution; freedom maybe? Cigarette? Other luxuries like chocolate? This is the cynical side of Offred who removes her rose tinted glasses for a while. She and of course we, wonder what he thinks and feels sharing his lover with another. But when the tinted glasses are back on she would still like to believe in him and his integrity. When she became pregnant and told him he said the only things appropriate in the situation, that both the Commander and his wife would love the child. It’s as if he is distancing himself early from Offred and their child. In a way his response may spring from duty as he did what was asked of him anyway. What it means I’m not sure but it is for sure that he won’t be there when the child grows up and he knows it.

The end is open to interpretation. We cannot be sure if Nick is truly a part of Mayday or the Eye trying to help Offred and his child to escape when things were beginning to fall apart in the house as Serena Joy finds out about the secret meetings between her and the Commander. Still Offred doesn’t trust him and regards him suspiciously and his way out. He arranges for her to be out of the house, for what we are left hanging. If he is indeed an agent of the Eye, and this pessimistic readers would interpret, that they would take Offred, jail her untill she gave birth, take the baby from her and then throw her into the colonies. But some people may prefer to think that there’s another side to the Eyes.

That they maybe spies put in place in households and offices which informs and protects those people important to the system, like the Handmaids, and that their wicked and cruel reputation springs from exaggerated stories by thwarted enemies. But he could also be a part of Mayday taking her and her child to safety until the war with the Republic of Gilead is over, at a time where true peace and happiness could be found in the country. That he is put in a household to gather enough information to take down a major official in the government. We can never be truly sure. In all this Nick remains mysterious because on the one hand we don’t exactly know what happens in the end and which faction he is truly loyal to. And on the other hand even though he and Offred became intimate she still don’t know a lot about him because he doesn’t talk about himself at all. One way in which the author keeps his mystery is the uncertainty and lack of communication on his part in the end.

To me he is a very important character in this novel because he gives Offred hope and affection when she needs it. He also gives Offred a child which she needed, although we may be cynical in our thinking that that was the reason Atwood placed this character here in the first place. But throughout the novel, I think that Nick is the outside influence that Offred needed not to sink too low into this society, although she did have a time where she couldn’t care less about the Mayday because she was content with having Nick with her night after night. Inspite of this Atwood may have created the character purely as, as I said, the outside influence, the one who is not too grounded by this new regime and still had ties to outside powers to be able to offer Offred escape when she needed it. Atwood’s last chapter is a master of cliffhangers and Nick is instrumental in making the suspense happen after all what do we really know about Nick compared to what we now know of the other character. Face it, if it was Moira who came with a van to take Offred away from the house when Serena finally finds out, we all know that she would take Offred to safety. But with Nick on the helm, we are not entirely sure as was intended by the author.


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