Offred is a patronymic name meaning Of Fred – referring to the man that the woman is serving. Offred is of a class of individuals who are kept as concubines mainly for reproductive purposes by the ruling class. Offred lost her autonomy to her husband by indoctrinating into the life of a handmaid.
Since Offred’s main purpose in the life of the commander was for reproduction purposes, and the commander was sterile, she strikes a deal with the commander’s wife to have sex with her driver in an effort to get her pregnant.
Offred who is the protagonist was separated from her husband and a daughter just after the formation of the Gilead Republic. During this time a fertile woman was considered a common commodity and Offred was one of them.
Instances where Offred’s Passive Nature was Portrayed
Most of the characters in the novel are very active but Offred is very passive. The instances where her passivity is portrayed include when Moira manages to escape but Offred declines. This makes her lose track of her several years even though she encounters her at Jezebel’s, a party-run brothel.
Ofglen on the other hand is very daring and leaps to knock out a spy who is to be tortured and killed due to false accusation. Ofglen decides to commit suicide in order to save the man from the pain of the violent death. This is an attribute which the passive Offred does not posses at all according to the narrator.
Offred becomes a passive object whereby a gazer can project any meaning including sexual fantasies that even aunt Lydia recognizes the power of the beholder and says that ‘Modesty is invisibility Never forget it. To be seen is to be penetrated. What you must be girls is impenetrable. (Atwood, 1987 pp.39).
Offred’s teasing of the guardian is also passive even though it is a form of resistance and subversion.
The Heroine Nature of Offred
In as much as Offred is passive, she may still be considered a heroine due to some bold steps that she took. She did not accept her role and therefore she is not ‘Of-Fred which was an encrypted way of portraying that she was actually not afraid. Her name Offred can also be said to mean Off Red. The Handmaids’ color is red. Therefore Off Red meant that she denounced the title and the role of a Handmaid. Since she is Off red, she rejects the social standing that she was being associated with.
In the later stages of her relationship with the commander, Offred acquires more power through the witnessing of the transgressions of the commander. Her Companion views this as real power and asks her to pass any form of incriminating information to the secret rebel organization, Mayday.
Another instance of Offred’s heroine nature was when she resisted Moira’s acceptance of the passive role. She wanted Moira to retain her former agency and assertiveness. She viewed it as an upsetting lack of volition (Atwood, 1987 pp.261). ‘I want gallantry from her, swashbuckling, heroism, single handed comba’t (Atwood, 1987 pp.255). This potrays her nature and what she wanted from her fellow.
Offred is also seen as heroine according to the way she handles issues. She confesses that the commanders wife, sees her as a reproach and a necessity (Atwood, 1987 pp. 23) since the society prizes children so highly. Her role as a surrogate mother breeds a lot of rivalry and tension between the two. She however does not react badly even when Joy calls her a slut.
In conclusion, Offred is seen as a heroine as her major achievements far much outweigh the wrongs that she might have done while serving as a slave.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaids Tale. London: Virago, 1987.
Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004
Tolan Fiona. Margaret Atwood: Feminism and Fiction. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007
Woolf, Virginia. Professions for Women. A Room of One’s Own/Three Guineas. Ed Michele Barrett. London: Penguin 1993