Critical Analysis of 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood

Essay by aberystwyth987 March 2004

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The creation of Offred, the passive narrator of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, was intentional. The personality of the narrator in this novel is almost as important as the task bestowed upon her. Atwood chooses an average women, appreciative of past times, who lacks imagination and fervor, to contrast the typical feminist, represented in this novel by her mother and her best friend, Moira. Atwood is writing for a specific audience, though through careful examination, it can be determined that the intended audience is actually the mass population. Although particular groups may find The Handmaid's Tale more enjoyable than others, the purpose of the novel is to enlighten the general population, as opposed to being a source of entertainment. A specific group that may favor this novel is the women activists of the 1960's and 1970's. This group, in which Offred's mother would be a member, is sensitive to the censorship that women once faced and would show interest to the "possible future" that could result.

Offred is symbolic of "every woman". She was conventional in prior times, married with one daughter, a husband and a career.

She is ambivalent to many things that may seem horrific to the reader. On page 93, Offred is witness to Janine's confession of being raped. She doesn't comment on how the blame is placed on Janine. Is this because Offred has begun to accept the words of Aunt Lydia, or more likely, is she silent to create emphasis on the horrific deed? The answer is easily satisfied when the reader finishes the novel. Offred must realize the injustices if she feels compelled to reveal her story on the tapes. She must grasp the importance of conveying the atrocities that were executed during the Gileadian area. Offred is representative of an average...