narrator and protagonist of The Handmaid’s Tale.
belongs to the class of Handmaids, fertile women forced to bear
children for elite, barren couples. Handmaids show which Commander
owns them by adopting their Commanders’ names, such as Fred, and preceding
them with “Of.” Offred remembers her real name but never reveals
it. She no longer has family or friends, though she has flashbacks
to a time in which she had a daughter and a husband named Luke.
The cruel physical and psychological burdens of her daily life in
Gilead torment her and pervade her narrative.
in-depth analysis of Offred.
Commander is the head of the household where Offred works as a Handmaid.
He initiates an unorthodox relationship with Offred, secretly playing Scrabble
with her in his study at night. He often seems a decent, well-meaning
man, and Offred sometimes finds that she likes him in spite of herself.
He almost seems a victim of Gilead, making the best of a society he
opposes. However, we learn from various clues and from the epilogue
that the Commander was actually involved in designing and establishing
in-depth analysis of The Commander.
Commander’s Wife, Serena worked in pre-Gilead days as a gospel singer,
then as an anti-feminist activist and crusader for “traditional
values.” In Gilead, she sits at the top of the female social ladder,
yet she is desperately unhappy. Serena’s unhappiness shows that her
restrictive, male-dominated society cannot bring happiness even
to its most pampered and powerful women. Serena jealously guards
her claims to status and behaves cruelly toward the Handmaids in her household.
in-depth analysis of Serena Joy.
best friend from college, Moira is a lesbian and a staunch feminist;
she embodies female resourcefulness and independence. Her defiant
nature contrasts starkly with the behavior of the other women in
the novel. Rather than passively accept her fate as a Handmaid,
she makes several escape attempts and finally manages to get away
from the Red Center. However, she is caught before she can get out
of Gilead. Later, Offred encounters Moira working as a prostitute in
a club for the Commanders. At the club, Moira seems resigned to
her fate, which suggests that a totalitarian society can grind down
and crush even the most resourceful and independent people.
in-depth analysis of Moira.
Aunts are the class of women assigned to indoctrinate the Handmaids
with the beliefs of the new society and make them accept their fates.
Aunt Lydia works at the “Red Center,” the re‑education center where
Offred and other women go for instruction before becoming Handmaids.
Although she appears only in Offred’s flashbacks, Aunt Lydia and
her instructions haunt Offred in her daily life. Aunt Lydia’s slogans
and maxims drum the ideology of the new society into heads of the
women, until even those like Offred, women who do not truly believe
in the ideology, hear Gilead’s words echoing in their heads.
is a Guardian, a low-level officer of Gilead assigned to the Commander’s
home, where he works as a gardener and chauffeur. He and Offred
have a sexual chemistry that they get to satisfy when Serena Joy orchestrates
an encounter between them in an effort to get Offred pregnant. After
sleeping together once, they begin a covert sexual affair. Nick
is not just a Guardian; he may work either as a member of the Eyes,
Gilead’s secret police, or as a member of the underground Mayday
resistance, or both. At the end of the novel, Nick orchestrates
Offred’s escape from the Commander’s home, but we do not know whether
he puts her into the hands of the Eyes or the resistance.
Handmaid who is Offred’s shopping partner and a member of the subversive
“Mayday” underground. At the end of the novel, Ofglen is found out,
and she hangs herself rather than face torture and reveal the names
of her co-conspirators.
works as a servant in the Commander’s household. She belongs to
the class of Marthas, infertile women who do not qualify for the
high status of Wives and so work in domestic roles. Cora seems more
content with her role than her fellow Martha, Rita. She hopes that
Offred will be able to conceive, because then she will have a hand
in raising a child.
knows Janine from their time at the Red Center. After Janine becomes
a Handmaid, she takes the name Ofwarren. She has a baby, which makes
her the envy of all the other Handmaids in the area, but the baby
later turns out to be deformed—an “Unbaby”—and there are rumors
that her doctor fathered the child. Janine is a conformist, always
ready to go along with what Gilead demands of her, and so she endears
herself to the Aunts and to all authority figures. Offred holds
Janine in contempt for taking the easy way out.
the days before Gilead, Luke had an affair with Offred while he
was married to another woman, then got a divorce and became Offred’s
husband. When Gilead comes to power, he attempts to escape to Canada
with Offred and their daughter, but they are captured. He is separated
from Offred, and the couple never see one another again. The kind
of love they shared is prohibited in Gilead, and Offred’s memories of
Luke contrast with the regimented, passionless state of male-female
relations in the new society.
- Offred remembers her mother in flashbacks to her
pre-Gilead world—she was a single parent and a feminist activist.
One day during her education at the Red Center, Offred sees a video
of her mother as a young woman, yelling and carrying a banner in
an anti-rape march called Take Back the Night. She embodies everything
the architects of Gilead want to stamp out.
Elizabeth is one of the Aunts at the Red Center. Moira attacks her
and steals her Aunt’s uniform during her escape from the Red Center.
Martha, or domestic servant, in the Commander’s household. She seems
less content with her lot than Cora, the other Martha working there.
- The guest speaker at the symposium that takes place
in the epilogue to The Handmaid’s Tale.
another academic, working at a university in the year 2195
transcribed Offred’s recorded narrative; his lecture details the
historical significance of the story that we have just read.