lllustration of six women wearing long, loose red dresses

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

Start Free Trial

What rebellious actions does the narrator take part in?

In this story, the narrator and protagonist, Offred, rebels in small but significant ways. For example, she repeats a forbidden phrase to herself, and rubs a pat of butter on her face.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator and protagonist of the story, Offred, rebels in small but significant ways. For example, she repeats to herself the words she finds inscribed into the floor, in a corner of her room: "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum." This translates as, "Don't let the bastards grind you down." When Offred discovers these words she doesn't understand what they mean, but she does understand that they are forbidden. It is an act of rebellion to read the words, and even more an act of rebellion to repeat them. Nonetheless, Offred decides to repeat the words to herself because to do so gives her "a small joy."

Another small act of rebellion occurs in Chapter 4, when Offred thinks about touching a guard's face. As she thinks this, the guard "turns away." Offred describes this moment as "a small defiance of rule, so small as to be undetectable." Nonetheless, living under such a strict regime, such moments are the "rewards" that Offred "holds out for (her)self." Such moments are necessary for her survival.

In Chapter 17, Offred rubs a pat of butter over her face, and "into the skin of (her) hands." She does this to keep her skin soft, and to hold on to the hope that one day she will "get out ... (and) be touched again, in love or desire." This also constitutes a small act of rebellion because the Wives have forbidden the use of lotions or creams. As Offred puts it, "Such things are considered vanities."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team