The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Antagonist

Main ideas Antagonist

The novel’s antagonist is the oppressive regime of the Republic of Gilead. The Gileadean state denies Offred’s personhood, treating her instead as a “national resource” (Chapter 12). The novel draws on the tools used by real, historical totalitarian regimes to deny personhood to their citizens. Gileadean law determines what Offred must do, who she must sleep with, where she must live, who she can talk to, even what she must wear. However, the novel also suggests that these tools are used in contemporary life in the United States, albeit in a milder form, to deny women full personhood. Offred remembers being restricted in the past—that is, in the late 20th century—by fear of sexual assault and the obligation to wear women’s clothes. In this sense, the novel’s true antagonist is the political domination of women by men in general. The Handmaid’s Tale suggests that gender norms in our own society are not as far removed from Gileadean totalitarianism as we might like to think. On the contrary, the novel argues that contemporary gender norms are a mild form of Gilead’s totalitarianism.