A heroine could be defined as a woman of outstanding courage and endurance, who is greatly admired or worthy of being admired. Essentially, she must be a person of outstanding qualities.
We have been asked to investigate Offred’s character and evaluate how she conforms to the role of the heroine in the novel. Throughout ‘The Handmaids Tale’, the idea of feminism is strongly linked with the role of the heroine. Primarily because Gilead is a patriarchal society, therefore Offred is fighting for women against men.The Handmaids Tale’ is a woman’s autobiographical narrative that challenges the absolute authority of Gilead and its male-orientated rules, highlighting the significance of story telling as an act of resistance against oppression.
It is Offred’s narrative voice transcribed into text that situates her as an individual woman, grounded in place and time, whose identity transcends that of her Handmaid’s role. One of Offred’s qualities that depict her as a heroine is her rebellion against Gilead and so consequently, her desire to stand up for what is right.She insists on voicing her own opinion when the regime demands total silence. However, her freedom is very circumscribed and she is unable to tell her story within the Gileadean context; she can only tell it after she has escaped.
Therefore, Offred’s only possible gesture against the silences of death and history is the act of story telling. Furthermore, through the language she uses, rather than the events of the story she tells, Offred convinces us of her resistance to Gilead’s values.Offred’s outer life is very constricted and drained of emotions, but her inner life has an energy and lyricism that enables her to survive emotionally as well as physically under the control of Gilead. Through her lone struggle, the reader is forced to admire Offred’s intense vigour and strength.
Alongside Offred’s desire to tell her own story, she also wishes to tell the stories of many other silenced women, which contradicts Gilead’s claims of absolute mastery and its myth of female submissiveness.From the reader’s perspective, Offred is respected as the powerful, strong-willed woman who writes on behalf of all the women, from the past and present, with no rights or representation. In this way, her narrative is exemplary and symbolic. Moreover, Offred tells the story of other women, further depicting through a series of contrasts, her potency compared to that of depleting women’s.
Some of these stories are fixed in the past and some end even while she is telling her own. Fundamentally, however, we must note that whether the women are rebels or willing victims, their chances of survival are slim.So, simply through Offred’s perseverance, we are forced to admire and respect her in ways that the other women failed. It is Offred, the witty, sceptical woman who cares about men, about mother-daughter relationships, and about her female friends who survives to tell her story.
Offred, the main protagonist and narrator, is trapped in Gilead as a Handmaid, one of the ‘two-legged wombs’ valued only for her potential as a surrogate mother. Denied of all her individual rights, she is known only by the patronymic ‘Of-Fred’, derived from the name of her current Commander. Most of the time she is violated and afraid.Virtually imprisoned in the Commander’s home, she is allowed out only with a shopping partner and for Handmaid’s official excursions.
She is a victim in terms of Gilead’s sexist values yet Offred’s narrative does not possess such simplicity for she resists reductiveness by a variety of methods that allow her to retain a sense of her own individuality and psychological freedom. Offred consistently refuses to be bamboozled by the rhetoric of Gilead, for she believes in the principle of making distinctions between things and in the precise use of words, just as she continues to believe in the value of every individual, in contrast to Gilead.For example, of the men in her life, she says: ‘Each one remains unique, there is no way of joining them together. They cannot be exchanged, one for the other.
They cannot replace each other’ (Chap. 30). In addition to this, is Offred’s lively responsiveness to the world around her. She is sharply observant of physical details in her surroundings, she is curious and likes to explore, and she has a lyrical response to the Commander’s Wife’s beautiful garden.
She observes its seasonal changes closely, for that garden represents for her all the natural beauty that is denied by the regime but which flourishes unchecked outside the window. It is also a silent testimonial to her resistance: ‘There is something subversive about this garden of Serena’s, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light’ (Chap. 25). Furthermore, Offred’s images, all related to nature and organic processes, constitute a ‘feminine’ language that works in opposition to Gilead’s toxic waste nightmare and its accompanying rhetoric.
Offred’s greatest psychological resource is her faculty of double vision, for she is a survivor from the past and it is her power to remember which enables her to survive in the present. She refuses to forget her past or her own name when she was a daughter, a lover, wife and working mother. In this way, she keeps her name buried like treasure, as a guarantee of her own identity:’ I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I’ll come back to dig up, one day’ (Chap. 14).
Her attitude also plays an important part in the makings of her character as a heroine.She is discreetly subversive but never openly rebellious, which could be seen by many as the best way of combat. In contrast to Moira’s confrontational attitude, Offred’s resistance always works surreptitiously and through compromise. She is aware of contradictions and failings within herself.
She also knows that she lacks Moira’s flamboyant courage and she accuses herself of cowardice and unreliability, just as at the end she feels guilt for having betrayed the household who imprisoned her. Yet, despite her self-doubts, Offred manages to convince us of her integrity.She survives with dignity and she embraces the possibility of her escape with hope. Her refusal to give up hope emphasises Offred’s great inner-strength even further.
Offred shows through her detailed psychological narrative how she can survive traumas of loss and bereavement and how she manages to elude the constraints of absolute authority. Her narrative remains a witness to the freedom and resilience of the human spirit. It is her story which survives the demise of Gilead and which finally exceeds the limits that Gilead tried to impose.