Spoilers ahead for Episode 7 of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Handmaid’s Tale frequently features acts of rebellion, both big and small, from its protagonists against the rulers of Gilead. But in this week’s episode, one chilling scene fostered a sense of secret camaraderie among the handmaids that viewers don’t often get to see. While on a shopping trip at the grocery store, the handmaids whisper their real names to each other — a move that could signal changing tides in their dystopian world.
The movement in the store is started by June, after she reunites with Emily (formerly known as the original Ofglen). Janine comes up behind June, surprising her with a hug, and telling her that some of the former handmaids who’d been sent to the colonies have come back. After last week’s bombing left so few handmaids left to serve Gilead’s commanders, apparently they needed to increase their numbers.
June soon notices that Janine isn’t the only familiar face back from the colonies, and quickly approaches Emily to offer a new and improved introduction. "June. That’s my name," she tearfully says to her. "I never got the chance to tell you." June quickly grabs another handmaid who’s passing by at the store. "Hey," she whispers covertly. "My name is June." And with that, a chain reaction is set into motion.
Soon, handmaids all over the store are whispering to each other, divulging their real names, and remembering who they were known as before the world went to hell and they became identified by the name of the men who owned them. It’s a small gesture, and one that might not cause any immediate change in the position the handmaids find themselves trapped in, but it’s a significant one.
The women smile to one another, shed a few tears, and quietly marvel in the power they feel by simply acknowledging who they were before, and who they still are inside. "I’m Dolores," one says. "It was my grandma’s name." Murmurs of "Brianna" and "Sarah" fly by amidst assurances of "nice to meet you," and it’s clear that this is the first time these handmaids are feeling a real sense of community among themselves.
It’s not the first time they’ve banded together — earlier this season they sent shock waves throughout Gilead when they collectively refused to stone Janine to death after she ran away with her baby. That statement was an important one as well — they made it known that they wouldn’t harm one another just because they were told to. But the sharing of real names, even though it’s less dramatic than the earlier act of defiance, is different because it’s a meaningful return to normalcy, even for just a few minutes.
Of course, sharing their real names with each other isn’t going to necessarily help the handmaids escape the horrors of Gilead, nor will it send a message to their commanders in the way that the incident with Janine did. But it did show that the handmaids aren’t afraid of each other, no matter how rightfully afraid they may be of the world around them.
Last season, June was timid and nervous to engage in anything other than the sanctioned conversation with other handmaids, and now they’re almost conspiring, even if it’s just to secretly know each other for who they really are. The scene fostered a sense of hope — one that doesn’t come around every week on The Handmaid’s Tale. Part of keeping the handmaids subdued and controlled is making them feel alienated from each other, and with this small, seemingly harmless step, June might have started to bring that notion down once and for all.
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