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The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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How does Atwood show rebellion against social order in The Handmaid's Tale?

In The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood shows rebellion through three female characters and the different paths they follow in trying to escape from or change society. Offred, Moira, and Ofglen occupy different social positions, and their anti-establishment actions range from overt resistance to suicide.

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Along with the protagonist, Offred, two other female characters embody different types of rebellion against the repressive social order of Gilead. Moira is a bold, fierce opponent of the regime, while Ofglen operates in secret within an underground movement. Offred begins to rebel through isolated instances of private, subdued resistance. Gradually, she becomes involved in overt rebellion, which takes the form of her relationship with Nick.

Moira’s bold, open actions reveal her ongoing commitment to the feminist principles that her mother had instilled in her. Moira and Offred, as college students, had taken for granted the rights for which their foremothers had fought. Once the post-revolutionary repressive policies are instituted, Moira finds them intolerable. Although her escape attempt proves unsuccessful and is severely punished, she concludes she cannot remain within conventional social bounds. Active rebellion leads her to a new type of subjugation as a sex worker.

Initially, Offred cannot see Ofglen as a political actor because she covered up her illicit actions. Functioning within a clandestine resistance movement, however, is a significant political statement for this handmaid. Her frustration at failure overcomes her, and she takes her own life.

Offred’s involvement with Nick in a loving, committed relationship which is prohibited by law constitutes a deliberate, ongoing state of rebellion. Her decision to take a non-conformist stance, regardless of exposing herself to danger, is an important step toward creating long-term social change.

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