Characterisation of Offred

Offred is a mostly passive character, good-hearted
but complacent. Like her peers, she took for
granted the freedoms feminism won and now pays
the price.
The women who is trapped in a dystopian society.
She is isolated, alone and afraid. She is confined to the home, only allowed out to go shopping with a
partner, never going alone. As a thirty three year old women, she is still seen as a “child bearer” and
fertile. This is what society was like in these times, with males seen as having all the power, and females
only needed for reproduction.
She gives her real name as a token to Nick, and he in turn uses it as an exchange of faith when he
comes for her with the black truck : ‘ He calls me by my real name. Why should this mean anything?’
(p.305). Offred does not trust the reader with her real name, as she is precautious in un wary situations.
Offred started off as a average working lady, who had a job as a librarian. She
worked for money, wore what she wanted to wear and choose who she wanted
to be with. Unfortunately she choose to fall in love with a married man who soon
became her husband and the father of her child.
For this action, when Gilead took over Massachusetts Offerd was made a handmaid. This
was a punishment for Offred because in her previous life she chose to get involved with a
married man. This action was frowned upon. Although had Offred been seen as not being
able to re-produce she would have been sent to the colonies to do hard labour and die.
Therefore it’s fair to say this can be also be seen as a privilege for her too.
[Had Offred’s husband (Luke) not been previously married and had an affair with Offred,
she would have become an econo-wife. She would have been able to stay with her
family, live the normal life, however as a house wife not a working lady. She would have
had some sort of freedom of choice.]
A handmaid is a women who is used to re-produce and for this duty only. Their bodies are
baby wombs not their own. A handmaid also has their names stripped from them and
replaced with their commander's name after ‘of’. Some people view being a handmaid as
a punishment as they have no freedom or choice in their life, however others view it as a
privilege because you are still able to produce babies.
The Power of Language
An interesting use of language is found in the manner in which Offred thinks of words and analyses
them, using them to distract her from her reality and to help her survive. For example, at one point she
thinks of the word chair and its many meanings, from a method of execution to the French word for
flesh. When she and the Commander play Scrabble, she uses the search for words to distract herself
from her fear and confusion.
Of course, one of the major changes to language enacted by the regime is that the use of language
has become illicit for women. On the one hand, this lends words and language even more power. On
the other hand, it renders the illicit use of language almost sexual. Offred may think so fiercely of words
and take such solace in the repetition of memories because doing so helps her to retain her knowledge
of language. When the Commander allows Offred to read or plays Scrabble with her, she realizes they
are practicing a kind of "kinky" sexual act.
By destroying the privacy of even condoned sexual acts, the government seems to encourage those in
power to act out against these regulations. Finally, when Offred takes a series of tremendous risks to
continue her affair with Nick, she demonstrates the power of sexual acts. The regime can impose as
many punishments as it wants; it can force women to watch other women be hung; it can torture and
abuse, but no matter what it does, ordinary women like Offred will continue to risk everything for acts of
sexuality inspired by the possibility of love.
Offred's mother serves as a mouthpiece for a different sort of feminism. Offred's mother marched for
abortion rights, the banning of pornography, and many other women's issues before the institution of the
new regime. When she was young, Offred remembers being embarrassed by her mother's activities. Her
mother would lecture her for being ungrateful and complacent about her rights. Only post-Gilead does
Offred realize how complacent she truly was. Offred didn't realize that her job or her right to own
property could be taken away. She now understands how the lack of rights changes one's perspective.
One of the qualities that make Offred so representative of women in general is that before Gilead, she
was the kind of woman who didn't consider herself a feminist. She feared feminism would alienate her
from men. She did not like it when her mother argued with Luke, trying to get him to admit that the only
reason he cooked was because of feminism. Now Offred understands that feminism only forces women
to recognize their natural alienation from men. It is the feminine itself that creates this alienation. This
distinction becomes clear when Offred loses her job and is afraid to ask Luke whether he prefers the
new order. Atwood explores feminism from several perspectives, and though she clearly considers its
flaws, Offred ultimately seems to realize its importance.
Offred is a mostly passive character, good-hearted
but complacent. Like her peers, she took for
granted the freedoms feminism won and now pays
the price.
(1) “There is more than one kind of freedom…freedom to and freedom from. In the
days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t
underrate it.”
(2) “I don't want to look at something that determines me so completely.”
(3) “Gilead is within you”
(4) “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 doesn’t matter.”
(5) “Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are
only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.”
(6) “Mother I think. Wherever you may be. Can you hear me? You wanted a
women’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. Be
thankful for small mercies.”
(7) “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, of means of transport, or
an implement for the accomplishment of my will…Now the flesh arranges itself
differently. I am a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear,
which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent
(8) “I would like to believe the story I am telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it…
if it is a story I am telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an
ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pickup where I left off.”
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