The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Protagonist

The protagonist of The Handmaid’s Tale is the narrator, Offred. Her goal is simply to preserve her identity as a person, in the face of an oppressive regime which sees her as a walking uterus, a “national resource” (Chapter 12). Because Offred’s goal is internal and psychological, much of the action of the novel is internal, too. External events happen—Ofglen reveals she is a member of Mayday; the Commander asks Offred to break the rules—but the real conflict arises in Offred’s head as she struggles to preserve her identity in the midst of the novel’s events. For Offred, simply describing her daily experience is a triumph. The moments when she is overwhelmed by fear of what might happen to her are defeats. Ultimately, Offred is rescued from her situation almost by chance. What’s more important is that when rescue comes, she has managed to preserve her sense of who she is. The evidence is the novel itself, her spoken account of her life, her identity, and the memories she holds dear.