The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Moira

I could kill you, you know, said Moira, when Aunt Elizabeth was safely stowed out of sight behind the furnace. I could injure you badly so you would never feel good in your body again. I could zap you with this, or stick this thing into your eye. Just remember I didn’t, if it ever comes to that.

Offred imagines the scenario when her friend Moira escaped from the Red Center. Although she doesn’t really know what Moira said at that moment, Offred’s imaginings gives insight into how she sees Moira. Even in the most terrible circumstances, Offred believes Moira will do whatever she can to survive. The image of Moira represents a stark contrast to Offred, who does not attempt to escape or fight back.

Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us dizzy. Already we were losing the taste for freedom, already we were finding these walls secure. In the upper reaches of the atmosphere you’d come apart, you’d vaporize, there would be no pressure holding you together.

After Moira escapes the Red Center, Offred describes how she and the other women felt about her. While they admired Moira’s bravery, they had already begun to feel comfortable in captivity, finding the idea of freedom disorienting. The contrast between Moira and the other Handmaids highlights Moira’s active tenacity in guarding her freedom and the passive complacency of the other women. Offred recalls their preference for security to explain how easily they acclimated to their new way of living.

She was not stunned, the way I was. In some strange way she was gleeful, as if this was what she’d been expecting for some time and now she’d been proven right. She even looked more energetic, more determined.

Offred recalls Moira’s reaction on the day they learned women could no longer hold property of their own. Moira, unlike Offred, was involved in activism and glimpsed the future. Moira saw her perceptions validated, and the new law gave her purpose, solidifying her resolve to resist the new order. While Offred and others simply let the changes happen, Moira was invigorated by the opportunity to fight back.

Moira slapped her across the face, twice, back and forth. Get back here, she said. Get right back here! You can’t stay there, you aren’t there anymore. That’s all gone.

Offred recalls Moira’s interaction with Janine in the Red Center, when Janine seemed to be in a daze remembering waiting tables in her previous life. The other women try to patiently talk her back to reality, but Moira literally slaps her back to the present. Even though Moira sets herself to escape Gilead, as she later does successfully, she knows no one can go back to the way things were before. In demanding that Janine stay in the present, she conveys the message that wishing and hoping have no place in the fight against the new order.

“Moira,” I say. “You don’t mean that.” She is frightening me now, because what I hear in her voice is indifference, a lack of volition. Have they really done it to her then, taken away something – what? – that used to be so central to her? And how can I expect her to go on, with my idea of her courage, live it through, act it out, when I myself do not?

Offred reacts with alarm as Moira describes her satisfaction with life at Jezebel’s. Moira has listed benefits such as face cream, alcohol, and drugs. Until now, Moira has existed in Offred’s mind as the paragon of principled resistance, courage, and defiance, giving Offred hope. Not only does Moira’s new outlook show how badly Gilead has eroded her character, it also destroys any optimism Offred had about the future.