Offred is the narrator and the protagonist of the novel, and we are told the entire story from her point of view, experiencing events and memories as vividly as she does. She tells the story as it happens, and shows us the travels of her mind through asides, flashbacks, and digressions. Offred is intelligent, perceptive, and kind. She possesses enough faults to make her human, but not so many that she becomes an unsympathetic figure. She also possesses a dark sense of humor—a graveyard wit that makes her descriptions of the bleak horrors of Gilead bearable, even enjoyable. Like most of the women in Gilead, she is an ordinary woman placed in an extraordinary situation.

Offred is not the crusading hero a reader might expect. After her failed attempt to escape with her husband and daughter, she submits to her role in the regime rather than endure further torture or exile. Atwood contrasts her with her feminist activist mother, whose causes Offred often felt uncomfortable with. Offred tells us herself that her relationship with Luke began as an illicit affair while he was married to someone else. Although Offred is friends with Ofglen, a member of the resistance, and feels a thrill at the possibility of someone bringing down Gilead, she fears joining it herself. In her affair with Nick, too, Offred becomes absorbed by a physicality and autonomy that Gilead has denied her, and she turns away from participating in Ofglen's plans. When the possibility of escape finally comes at the end, it comes through Nick, rather than a plan Offred puts in place herself. Offred's inertia shows how an oppressive regime like Gilead can destroy most people's ability to resist it.