The Handmaid`s Tale

Offred is the narrator of the story and the reader is told everything about the Gilead regime from her
perspective. She does not often describe her physical appearance but the reader knows that she
cares about how she looks. “…I will use the butter later tonight…” “…I rub the butter over my
face…” “there’s no more hand lotion or face cream, not for us.” “The butter is a trick…”. Even this
shows her rebellion, for as a handmaid she cannot think for herself or against the regime.
Offred as a
The Handmaid's are there to bear children
to the wifes. They are always seen in red,
symbolising fertility. Offred is the main
character aswell as the narrator in the
novel. Through her experiences we learn
about the ideas that Margaret Atwood has
for the novel."Offred" is a slave name, as
it is patronymic Of-fred making her a
possesion of her current commander. Her
status in society is frowned apon by
multiple other woman. The wifes describe
the Handmaid's as sluts and the Martha's
and Econowifes see them as being lazy.
This pushes the women away from each
other and severs any chances of them
joining together and creating friendships,
or relationships. As a woman she cannot
own possessions or money. She is even
denies the right to read, as to read is to be
educated and to be educated is to have
power. The Patriarchal society rules in
Gilead and the Commander makes it clear
that woman are inferior.
Personal Opinion
As readers we feel disappointed with
Offred. We feel that she has so many
opportunities to escape or make a
difference, but she does not take them.
Instead she has “…a leading trait (of
Offred was her)/of unwillingness to stick
her neck out…”
We feel that she is a hypocrite as she
judges other people conforming to the
Gileadean ways, but she, also, is
pretending to do the same. Her lack of
courage is what is frustrating but at the
same time it makes her more believable
as a real character.
What keeps Offred sane is that she refuses to forget her past or her
own name, when she was a daughter, mother, wife and a working
woman. She mentions Luke who was her husband in the time before.
She describes how they tried to escape with their daughter over the
border into Canada. Memories from her family before are what keeps
her from killing herself as she feels that there is a chance, however
small, that she could be reunited with them and by killing herself she
would take away any such chances. " I try to conjure, to raise my own
spirits, from wherever they are. I need to remember what they look
like. I try to hold them still behind my eyes, their faces, like
pictures in an album. But they won't stay still for me, they move,
there's a smile and it's gone, their features curl and bend as if the
paper's burning, blackness eats them. A glimpse, a pale shimmer
on the air; a glow, aurora, dance of electrons, then a face again,
faces. But they fade, though I stretch out my arms towards them,
they slip away from me, ghosts at daybreak. Back to wherever they
are. Stay with me, I want to say. But they won't. It's my fault. I am
forgetting too much." is a quote from Offred, showing her desire to be
reunited with her family. She also wishes to be reunited with her
former self. She refuses to conform to the society's idea that she is
simply a "two-legged womb". The only physical description we have
of Offred is what she gives herself " I am thirty-three years old. I
have brown hair. I stand five seven without shoes".
Personal Opinion
Offred has a private side, which as
readers we see throughout the novel in
many examples, such as her
reluctance to share her name. She
tells Nick her name in confidence as a
symbol of love, whereas even though
she is talking to us, and ‘pretend(ing)
that you can hear me but I know you
can’t’ she doesn’t feel that she can tell
us her name as she has lost trust in
humanity and keeps private things just
that. Private.
She refuses to give us her real name, something she wishes
to keep as a treasure, something to dig up when she has
succeeded in becoming free of Gilead. Her Pre-Gilead name
is never revealed, but it 'It is implied that her birth name is
June. All of the women training to be handmaids whisper
names across the bed at night. The names are " Alma.
Janine. Dolores. Moira. June" and all are later accounted
fore except June.'(Trust Me': Reading the Romance Plot in
Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale). " Her greatest
psychological resource is her faculty for double
vision."( York Notes by Coral Ann Howells) This double
vision allows Offred, as she is a survivor from the past, to be
able to live in the present. She perfects this double vision as
the novel continues. She is able to simultaneously inhabit two
different spaces, her handmaid space and at the same time
be in a happier space of memory. Where she can be free to
think for herself, remember where things use to be. This
double vision enables the reader to understand the before
and after parts of the novel. It makes the reader empathise
with Offred as we put ourselves in her position imagining
what it would be like if all our rights as woman were taken
away and we were reduced to being house wives, handmaids
or sent to the colonies depending on our reproductive ability.
Personal Opinion:
Offred is subtle in her rebellion against Gilead
and this generally frustrates us as we know
how she envies the freedom of the
Commander. She never has any vent about her
freedom and how she wants it. We never know
if she achieves that freedom, she is too shy to
act out against Gilead. This annoys us because
we want to know how she gets what she wants
eventually, if she ever does.
Even though she disagrees with the ideology of Gilead she
does not take drastic measures to show her rebellion.
Instead she prefers to keep her rebellion subtle, by
thinking for herself she denies Gilead total control over
her, stealing the flower and still hoping that things will go
back to the way they were. All these things are taboo in
Gilead and punishable by death as it shows that she is not
a true-believer. Offred sees things that represent power
and remind her of freedom, these things create a desire in
her to take these back from the ones who took them from
her in the first place. She wishes that she had stolen the
knife when she thinks the Eyes are coming for her. She
wants this to escape her life, but as shown by her
character she could never do such a thing because she
feels even though everything has been taken from her, and
she despises that, she still has hope for things to live for.
Offred holds the Commanders pen at one stage during
their meetings and goes on to say 'The pen
between my fingers is sensuous, alive
almost, I can feel its power, the power of
the words it contains. Pen Is Envy, Aunt
Lydia would say, quoting another Centre
motto, warning us away from such
objects. And they were right, it is envy.
Just holding it is envy. I envy the
Commander his pen. It's one more thing I
would like to steal.' This shows Offred’s desire to
have her own power again, the power of freedom. As
Offred is denied possessions, even something as strange
and insignificant as a pen symbolizes freedom and
education. This is powerful imagery for us, as we can
relate to Offred and her While she is confused about her
identity and even starts to accept the role that has been
imposed upon her, she always hopes that things will
Personal Opinion:
As readers used to dramatized Hollywood films, we
are generally disappointed with Offred’s lack of
courage. She never commits and drastic rebellious
acts and instead subtly rebels while slowly
conforming. She’s a frustrating character who many
people may find complicated yet weak. She is a
nice person, but she’s afraid for her family so
silently obeys Gilead, while at the same time
rebelling, and this annoys us because we never get
that closure of knowing she does receive the
freedom that she longs for during the whole novel.
"Offred has been manipulated into believing that this
sinister system was designed for her own good."
(Rebellion in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale).
She is afraid to commit any obvious acts of defiance
because she still has the will to live. This is due to the fact
that she continuously hopes to see Luke and her daughter
again, as shown by her desire to see the photo of her
daughter that Serena Joy presents to her. Offred is
tortured by thoughts of her daughter. Communication
between them is impossible. This is why Offred is so
passive and unwilling to act out for her freedom. However,
Mary McCarthy argues: " It is true that a leading trait of
Offred was her unwillingness to stick her neck out and
perhaps we are meant to conclude that such
unwillingness, multiplied, may be fatal to a free society.“
This explains to us that in order to retain our freedom, we
must be willing to fight when it is threatened otherwise
society would never have developed. Women still would be
unable to vote if everyone was afraid as Offred is. Even
though she is afraid for her family, which is a decent
reason to be afraid, she steals things and rebels and
wants change. She never fights out for her freedom in a
loud way as she knows the terrible consequences of being
a traitor to Gilead- death. She also never knows who to
trust, so she keeps her rebellion private.

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