What is the importance of Moira, of The Handmaids Tale?
Moira serves as an interesting contrast to Offred in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Moira is more outspoken and politically savvy than Offred. It is Moira who informs Offred of all the developments as Gilead quickly takes control and installs its own leadership. We learn at one point in the novel that Offred's mother was an feminist activist, but Offred does not feel so motivated. She is a bit more passive and (in the pre-Gilead world) lives her life as she sees fit without thinking too much about the worsening political climate, until she loses her job and access to her bank account. She has an affair with Luke while he is still married and then marries him; they have a daughter together. Once Offred is a handmaid in Gilead and loses all of her freedom, she becomes increasingly rebellious. It is then, through flashbacks mostly, that she thinks about the example set by Moira.
Moira and Offred are best friends before Gilead's regime takes over, and they are also both in the same red center, where they train to be handmaids. Moira is more outwardly rebellious than Offred and even gets physically punished by the aunts. One day, though, she assaults an aunt and escapes, or at least that is the rumor. Offred imagines Moira's heroic rebellion and successful escape to freedom. It is a story she needs to keep going; she must have hope that one day the torture she is put through daily will end.
Later in the novel, though, Offred meets Moira at Jezebel's, where Moira is a sex worker. Apparently after she fled the red center, Moira took the Female Underground Railroad and was able to hide for a while. Eventually, though, she was caught and returned to Gilead. She can no longer be a handmaid, as she is considered damaged and a bad example to the other women. She can either be sent to the colonies (basically banished and forced to work in a toxic environment) or work as a prostitute at Jezebel's. She sees the opportunity at Jezebel's as offering her a sort of freedom, though she is still demoralized and demeaned, simply in a different way now. Seeing where Moira ends up may be more negative than positive for Offred since she can no longer romanticize Moira's story. The reader could also interpret their meeting as an impetus for Offred's further rebellion through her relationship with Nick. At the end of the novel, we don't know what happens to Offred, but she is bolder and more revolutionary than she was at its start.
Moira does escape working at the toxic dump by agreeing to work at the house of prostitution, Jezebel's, but it would be difficult to consider her the same rebellious spirit that we see her at the beginning of the story. Her clothes are tattered, she and the other women use drugs, and she is as much as a "whore" as the handmaid who are used for purposes of breeding. Rather than rebellious and victorious at the end, Moira is beaten. In saying she has a good life it is more likely she is speaking out of desperation or because she is told to say that or her life would be even worse. She is important in the novel because she demonstrates the strength of the party--how it can reduce even a woman of rebellious strength to a worn woman dressed in a tattered bunny costume. She is every bit as much of a sexual object as those forced to be vessels for pregnancy--maybe even more so. She shows the difficulty of escape this sexual totalitarian society.
Moira is important to show the difficulties in the resistance movement in totalitarianism.
She is sexually uninhibited in her homosexuality in a sexually repressed society, and is punished for it. It does not stop her resistance, and she tries to escape, but is mutilated.
She escapes again, and is forced into prostitution. Yet, through it all, she does not let them beat her into submission.