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The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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Student Question

How does Moira's attempted escape in Chapter 15 influence Offred's hope for her own successful rebellion?

Quick answer:

When Moira attempts to escape and fails, it is less that this gives Offred hope that she can succeed where Moira failed and more that it reinforces Offred's need to rebel and be an individual again. It adds to Offred's growing anger over the treatment of handmaids in Gilead. She resents that Gilead has taken her family, her individuality, and her humanity from her. Small rebellious acts, like stealing sugar for Moira and butter for herself, embolden Offred.

Expert Answers

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Moira's failed attempt at escaping did not necessarily offer Offred hope that she can succeed where Moira failed. It reinforced her need to rebel by increasing her need to be an individual again; it also adds to her growing resentment and anger over the treatment of handmaids in Gilead. Understandably, she has a growing anger over all that Gilead has taken from her: her family and her individuality and humanity.

Offred recognizes that torturing Moira's feet is the standard punishment for a first-time offender. She understands that this is because feet are not necessary to procreate. This cements Offred's anger about her sole purpose in Gilead, which is to reproduce.

Offred longs to be seen as a person again and not as a breeding device. She needs to be seen and held by someone who knows her for who she is. She longs for someone to call her by her old name, because that is her identity. As a handmaid, she is nothing more than a vessel to gestate the progeny of Gilead.

The handmaids collectively engage in an act of small rebellion by stealing the sugar packets from the cafeteria to bring back to Moira, whose swollen feet make it impossible for her to join them at their meals. This is, as noted, a small act, but it makes Offred recall her humanity. She is more than a vessel to be inseminated.

Moira’s brief escape to the hospital and her return to severe punishment also work on Offred's mind, as her resentment of the way handmaids are treated in Gilead continues to increase until finally it reaches a point where she recognizes that she must act.

Separately, Offred had cautioned Moira not to try to escape the way she did, by faking an illness and being taken to the hospital. Presumably, the hospital attendants who examined Moira recognized that she was not really ill and understood her motivation. Moira's escape attempt was not well planned, which Offred recognized at the outset.

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