Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian and theocratic state that has replaced the United States of America. Because of dangerously low reproduction rates, Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving. Offred serves the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Offred is not the narrator's real name. Handmaid names consist of the word "of" followed by the name of the Handmaid's Commander. Every month, Offred must have impersonal, wordless sex with the Commander while Serena sits behind her holding her hands. Offred's freedom, like the freedom of all women, is completely restricted. She can leave the house only on shopping trips, the door to her room cannot be completely shut, reading is forbidden, and the Eyes, Gilead's secret police force, watch her every public move. As Offred tells the story of her daily life, she often slips into flashbacks, that tell the events leading up to the beginning of the novel. Before Gilead, Offred married a man named Luke, and they had a daughter together. She often talked about her mother, who was a single mother and a feminist activist, and her best friend Moira, who was very independent. The founders of Gilead began their rise to power in a time when pollution and chemical spills led to declining fertility rates. Using the military, they assassinated the president and the members of Congress. They claimed they were taking power temporarily. They soon suspended the Constitution, and cracked down on women's rights, forbidding women to hold property, have jobs, and even have their own money. Offred and Luke took their daughter and attempted to flee accross the boarder into Canada, but they were caught and separated from one another, and Offred hasn't seen them since. After her capture, Offred was sent to the Rachel and Leah Re-education Center, called the Red Center by the Handmaids. At the center, women were prepared for becoming Handmaids. Aunt Lydia supervised the women, giving speeches stressing Gilead's beliefs that women should be subservient to mean and solely concerned with bearing children. Moria is brought to the Red Center, but she escapes, and Offred does not know what becomes of her. Once assigned to the Commanders house, Offred's life settles into a restictive routine. She takes shopping trips with Ofglen, another Handmaid, and they visit the Wall outside what used to be Harvard University, where the bodies of rebels hang. She must visit the doctor frequently to be checked for disease and other complications, and she must endure the "Ceremony" every month. One day when she is visiting the doctor, he offers to have sex with her to get her pregnant, suggesting that her Commander is probably infertile. She refuses, because the doctor makes her uneasy, and his proposition is too risky. After a Ceremony, the Commander sends his gardener and chauffer, Nick, to ask Offred to come see him in his study the following night. She begins visiting him regulary. They play Scrabble (which is forbidden), and he lets her look at old magazines like Vogue. At the end of these secret meetings, he asks her to kiss him. After some time had gone by without Offred becoming pregnant, Serena suggests that Offred should secretly have sex with Nick and pass the child off as the Commander's. Serena promises to bring Offred a picture of her daughter if she sleeps with Nick. The same night that Offred is supposed to sleep with Nick, the Commander secretly takes her out to a club called Jezebel's, where the Commanders mingle with prostitutes. Offred sees Moira working there. The two women meet in a bathroom, and Offred learns that Moira was captured just before she crossed the border. She chose life in Jezebel's over being sent to the Colonies, where most political prisoners and dangerous people are sent. After that night at Jezebel's Offred says that she never sees Moira again. Soon after Offred returns from Jezebel's, late at night, Serena arrives and tells Offred to go to Nick's room. Offred and Nick have sex. Soon they begin to sleep together frequently, without anyone's knowledge. One day, during one of their shopping trips, Ofglen reveals to Offred that she is a member of "Mayday," an underground organization dedicated to overthrowing Gilead. Offred becomes so caught up in her affair with Nick that she ignores Ofglen's requests that she gather information from the Commander for Mayday. Soon after this, Offred goes out shopping, and a new Ofglen meets her. This new woman is not part of Mayday, and she tells Offred that the old Ofglen hung herself when she saw the Eyes coming for her. At home, Serena has found out about Offred's trip to Jezebel's, and she sends her to her room, promising punishment. What will happen to Offred? You'll have to read to find out the ending. =]
1) The Republic of Gilead is a totalitarian and theocratic state that replaced the United States of America and it's democracy. Do you think this could ever happen in real life?
2) Handmaids lived a very unhappy life. Many commited suicide or tried to escape. Some just went along with it. What would you do if you were in Offred's situation? Would you commit suicide, try to escape, join Mayday, or just go along with it?