The Handmaid's Tale Characters
by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale book cover
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The main characters in The Handmaid’s Tale are Offred, the Commander, Serena Joy, and Moira.

  • Offred is the novel’s narrator. After Gilead was established, she was separated from her husband and daughter and forced into service as a Handmaid for the Commander and his wife.
  • The Commander is a high-ranking member of the Sons of Jacob. He begins meeting with Offred in secret and giving her forbidden gifts.
  • Serena Joy is the Commander’s wife. Prior to the revolution, she was a singer and outspoken antifeminist.
  • Moira was Offred’s best friend. Once a Handmaid, she now works as an escort at Jezebel’s, a nightclub.

Characters

Offred

Offred is the narrator and protagonist of The Handmaid’s Tale. She grew up in a world before Gilead and remembers her mother as an outspoken feminist, the freedom she experienced during college with her best friend, Moira, and her life with her husband, Luke, and their daughter. After the Republic of Gilead was established, she was separated from Luke and their daughter.

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As one of the few women able to bear children, Offred is coerced by the totalitarian regime of Gilead to become a Handmaid. She lives in the home of a high-ranking man, the Commander, and his wife, Serena Joy. Every month, she must allow the Commander to attempt to impregnate her. She does what is expected of her but secretly resents it, careful to never reveal her true feelings out of a strong sense of self-preservation. (Read an extended character analysis on Offred.)

The Commander

The Commander is one of the wealthy, high-ranking men who led the Sons of Jacob revolt and was instrumental in establishing the new conservative regime in Gilead. He is married to Serena Joy, a high-ranking woman, but since she is unable to have children, he takes a Handmaid, Offred, and copulates with her in an attempt to further the human race. 

At first, he takes little to no pleasure in this responsibility. After some time, however, he decides he wants to try to get to know Offred in order to make the Ceremony more pleasurable for himself. He summons Offred to him privately and asks her to play Scrabble with him and to kiss him. He begins secretly meeting with her regularly despite knowing this puts Offred in danger. 

He brings Offred forbidden presents, like a magazine and books. He takes pleasure in showing her parts of the world she thought were outlawed, but still survive for the rich and influential like himself to take advantage of. 

Though Offred attempts to explain the particulars of her situation and the restrictions she’s under, he doesn’t completely understand. Despite his involvement in the regime that restricted women’s rights, he wants Offred to live comfortably, mostly so she doesn’t take her own life like his previous Handmaid did. 

When he becomes more comfortable with Offred, he presents her with flashy, revealing clothes and takes her to a nightclub called Jezebel’s where there are drinks and prostitutes. He tells Offred that men have needs that can’t be met by only one woman and such establishments are necessary. He then takes Offred to a hotel room and has sex with her, the first time they do so alone. 

When police come to take Offred away, he challenges them at first, but then backs off and allows the police to drive her away.

Serena Joy

Before she was the Commander’s wife, Serena Joy was a singer, then a TV personality preaching the need for women to stay home; Offred remembers seeing her on TV. Before she became the Commander’s wife, several people attempted to assassinate her.

She cares for her husband, but acts possessively toward him and makes sure Offred knows her place around him. Serena may rank higher than Offred as a Commander’s wife, but Offred’s ability to bear children triggers Serena’s insecurity and jealousy towards this younger, fertile Handmaid. 

When Offred first comes to their home, Serena is curt and doesn’t trust her. Slowly, she warms up a little to Offred, mostly because she wants Offred to have a child for...

(The entire section is 2,954 words.)