The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Identity

1

Rita scowls at me before slipping in to stand behind me. It’s my fault, this waste of her time. Not mine, but my body’s, if there is a difference.

Offred reacts to the pessimistic expression of a member of the household during preparations for the procreation ceremony. Since authorities in Gilead restrict Handmaids’ roles to conception and childbirth, Offred begins to see that only her fertility matters to others. In this wry observation, Offred assumes the blame for not producing, differentiating between herself and her body. Her complex character with intellect and a sense of humor contrasts with the mindset of those she serves, who see her only worth lies in her ability to conceive a child.

2

My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I’ll come back to dig up, one day.

As Offred remembers the day she and her husband and daughter tried to escape across the border, she recalls the name she had then. In Gilead, a Handmaid’s name derives from the name of the man whom they serve, easily changeable and anonymous. Offred tries to downplay the loss of her name but instead realizes a name holds more meaning than a simple telephone number. In taking away her name Gilead stripped her of her identity, now buried treasure in Offred’s consciousness.

3

Can I be blamed for wanting a real body, to put my arms around? Without it I too am disembodied.

Offred thinks of her husband and daughter and wishes she could hold them. Part of her identity in her former life was being a wife and mother, and now that she can no longer care for her family or give and receive any physical affection, she experiences dissociation. She feels “disembodied” due to being separated from her family, depicting how detrimental a lack of love can be to the spirit.

4

“I am Ofglen,” the woman says. Word perfect. And of course she is, the new one, and Ofglen, wherever she is, is no longer Ofglen. I never did know her real name. That is how you can get lost, in a sea of names.

Ofglen’s replacement responds to Offred’s asking about Ofglen. Offred had only known her previous shopping partner as “Ofglen,” a woman whose identity existed only in relation to the man she served. The new Ofglen’s quick answer shows how replaceable Handmaids are in Gilead. Stripping people of their names deprives them of their identities, another way Gilead takes away freedoms.