The Handmaid's Tale
Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Character Analysis

(Avoiding Spoilers)

Grew Up… in “normal” America, with a feminist mother. Our unnamed protagonist led a fairly typical life before a super-religious group, called the Sons of Jacob, took over the United States. They formed a theocratic military dictatorship called The Republic of Gilead. Overnight, her husband, daughter, and her job as a librarian were ripped away.

Living… in the Commander’s house, in a tiny plain room. She doesn’t own anything. She doesn’t have any rights. She doesn’t even get to keep her original name – she is now called Offred, or literally “Of-Fred,” for the man she is supposed to be bred by.

Profession… Handmaid. Because of chemical pollution, only about 1% of women can become pregnant. These child-bearing women are called Handmaids. Our protagonist is one of them – she has been forcibly trained and placed in a high-ranking official’s house. The official’s wife, Serena Joy, is not able to conceive, so it’s her job to do so.

Interests… she used to have some. Now she isn’t allowed to read, sing, make eye contact, or even talk to anyone beyond standard greetings.

Relationship Status… widowed. Back in the “old America,” she used to be married. Now, she’s more or less a “two-legged womb.”

Challenge… dealing with an oppressive world. She desperately wants to find her daughter, but she’s not even supposed to have any desires. The Republic of Gilead has trained her to only worry about getting pregnant. She would try to escape, but every day she sees hanged corpses of those who committed even minor infractions. To survive, she puts on a compliant face: “I wait. I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech.”

Personality… full of life, loving, and intellectual – at least she used to be. Now she keeps her head down and does not show any expressions. Internally, she remains keenly observant, realistic, and somewhat hopeful. She sees through the Republic of Gilead’s hypocrisy, but knows that open rebellion would mean immediate death. She tries to appreciate what she can – any informal human contact, flowers, and anything else she can find.


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