Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, tells the story of a handmaid, Offred, living in a dystopian world, guided by a republic that took over the government and seized women of all of their rights. Her sole purpose in life is to produce children, however, she spends most of her time alone and day-dreaming of the life she used to live. Overtime, she gains monetary substances from her oppression which are strictly banned from her possession, although they give her a sense of power that the other handmaids do not have. As Offred conforms to the dystopian world of Gilead and is striped of all her rights, she finds the power in herself to escape which reveals that one must disregard their original beliefs to be safe when placed in an unnatural environment.
Initially, Offred copes with and accepts the government’s oppressive power and allows beliefs to be forced upon her, suggesting that it is difficult to be yourself when being controlled by a larger power, thus causing a hopeless feeling. The Gilead society frequently testifies women against one another and ordered them to admit to the sins they have committed and why they did them in order to break down their emotions. The effectiveness of the group condemnation becomes clear when Janine said without prompting that the rape was her fault because she led them on. However, Offred begins to enjoy the condemnation when she said “we meant it, which was the bad part.” Here, women are being coerced into condemning their peers, because they know they will be punished if they do not. By forcing women to argue against each other, they’re left alone and unable to make friends, thus creating an isolating atmosphere. Moreover, this causes the women to be numb and stop acknowledging the transformation of their behavior over time. When Offred conforms with the other women in acts of hatred, she proves that the women truly believe the ideology Aunt Lydia feeds them. Therefore, when one is under pressure, they conform with others to stay unnoticed and safe. Additionally, prior to becoming a handmaid, Offred was told that she couldn’t have her credit card and allowed luke to take them. She didn’t protest because Luke said it wouldn’t help, instead she cried and let herself be told what to do and surrendered to his power. Instead of arguing with Luke, she simply allowed his power to direct her, which expresses Ofreeds initial reliance in men, subtially showing that she didn’t crave power in this case. Moreover, before the Gilead took over, Offred’s mother had frequently protested in a march for abortion rights. Offred felt embarrassed that her mom went to the protest, and stood up for what she originally believed in because that behavior was never directly encouraged upon her. Offred’s uncomfortable feelings about protest suggest that it was unnatural for ordinary people to have power. It’s difficult to know how to use power and what to do with it when one is not in relation to having it. Overall, people feel powerless when compared to a larger group, thus causing sensations of extreme loneliness and hesitation that make a person do whatever it takes to survive.
Consequently, Offred suspects there are others trying to resist the government involvement which indicates that an attempt to take control by becoming more audacious will create an identity to carry on with life. As Offred and Ofglen go on their daily walks to get groceries, they frequently make subtle conversation about religion. Suddenly, Ofglen whispers to Offred asking her whether she believes God. The two women realize they can trust one another and Offred becomes excited about having a friend. The alliance that Offred and Ofglen have serves as a sense of hope to both of them. The excitement of having a connection with another conveys the power of friendship and its ability to make one feel more normal. The friendship is not only beneficial mentally, but also to their individual safety, due to the connections to the group Mayday, an underground organization focusing on overthrowing the Gilead. Later in the novel, Offred sneaks out of her room to meet with the Commander. She realizes that she can’t refuse to see him because he has complete power over her. To her surprise, the Commander asks her to play a game of Scrabble, which is one of the many things forbidden to women. Offred continues to see the Commander and play this game which emphasizes her craving need for power as she is given the duty to keep a secret from the world. Additionally, Offered decides to ask the commander about the latin phrase, ‘nolites te bastardes carborundorum’ (meaning don’t let the bastards grind you down). These words represent the resistance to the Gilead by society. Offred realizes her connection with the previous Handmaid by identifying by the same phrase. The knowledge of the phrase emphasizes that power is wished for by all people in the Gilead. The secret of knowing about a previous handmaid and reading and identifying a phrase gives her a sense of identity that she did not have before. Therefore, curiosity and knowledge give an impression of power to a society deprived of most natural rights.
Offredo give less effort into staying hidden from the soon falling gileadian empire suggests that the desire for freedom overpowers self-control, giving an individual the power to fully resist substantial control. Nearing the end of the novel, Offred spends time with a guardian who serves the Commander, Nick.Offred and Nick have sex and talk about their previous lives, an act strictly prohibited, and slowly gain trust for one another. The selfishness that has always been a part of her comes out full force when she goes to see him because she is absorbing all the communication and freedom which is taken away from her. Seeing Nick is not asked upon her, she meerley made the dicious to risk her life to speak to him rather than stay quiet, reinforcing the parting of how she’s supposed to act verses how she wants to act. Meanwhile, Offred is under the impression that Serena Joy told the Eyes about her frequent nights with the Commander. She imagines and fantasizes ways to kill herself as the eyes approach her house. Nick comes into her room and tells her that the Eyes accompanying the van are part of Mayday and urges Offred to trust him. Offered no longer cares what her future might entail, and she recognizes that she could not stay silent anymore. Here, it becomes clear that everyone in Gilead is breaking the laws secretly because the laws are impossible to obey. Her trust in Nick reveal increasing power and ability to prevent others from interfering with her personality. The historical notes, consisting of a man telling a speech about the Gilead society, expose Offred’s journey after being captured. Pieixoto, the speaker, admits to his audience that Nick most likely helped offred to escape, by evidence of the tapes that tell the narrator’s story. Although the fate of offred is unclear, there are many possibilities of where she could’ve gone. Offred’s ability to escape and make diary entries to share her story with others suggests her passion and goal to be freed from her dehumanizing life as a handmaid. In the end she reflects on her life and identifies her change in thought as she had to conform to a body of women that were banned of most humane things. Although the experience did kill the part of her life she loved the most, she managed to come out alive and somewhat free from the predominant society by never abandoning her crave for power.
Overall, the struggle to find freedom is emotionally challenging. Overtime, Offred’s mental resistance reflects on her physical resistance as she finally finds the power to trust and eventually escape. Although her curiosity and desire for freedom ultimately end in her destruction, she still manages to find revenge by exposing Gilead using documents.