“"We aren't concubines. We're two-legged wombs."”— Offred reflecting her new social role
Offred is the main protagonist of The Handmaid's Tale. She is a woman in her thirties who is forced to work as a Handmaid in the early years of the Republic of Gilead, due to the fact she is still capable of bearing children. Offred recounts her life - before, during and after the creation of Gilead - to an unseen audience; it is revealed at the end of the novel that she has recorded her story on a series of tapes. Offred's final fate is left ambiguous. She is the former wife of Luke and the mother of a young daughter; she later begins a relationship with a Guardian named Nick, whom she develops romantic feelings for.
In the novel, her real name is never revealed. Due to an assumed (but actually coincidental) "clue" in the text, the author later welcomed readers to name Offred June "if they wish".
In the film adaption, Offred is portrayed by Natasha Richardson and in the television series, she is portrayed by Elisabeth Moss.
- The novel never directly mentions what Offred's original name was - probably intentionally, as pointed out in the epilogue, based on the narrative conceit that the book is a collection of audio recordings that Offred made, in which she intentionally avoided using people's real names for fear of exposure. For years, fans speculated that her real name as "June" based on a few stray clues: when the Handmaids imprisoned in the Rachel and Leah Center whisper their real names to each other, these names are all later given for other characters that Offred meets, i.e. Janine/Ofwarren. By process of elimination, the only name listed off that another character doesn't claim later was "June". There is of course the possibility that Atwood intended this as a red herring, that the in-universe Offred intentionally gave fake clues like this to throw anyone who found the tapes off her trail (just as she used pseudonyms for other named men in the story). The 1990 movie either didn't notice or abandoned this point, instead having Offred directly say her original name was "Kate". The 2017 TV series clearly states that her original name was in fact "June".
- The name June is derived from the Latin Juno, which was the name of the Roman goddess of marriage, childbirth and women, the wife of Jupiter, the ruler of the gods, and the Roman counterpart of the Greek Hera. This matches well with the different roles of Offred (whose real name is possibly June) plays: she is Luke's wife, a mother and later a 'breeder' for the Republic of Gilead, and finally, a voice for the women of Gilead.
- Margaret Atwood herself explained in a new author's Forward to 2017 reprints of the novel that she never intended Offred's original name to be "June", and while she has heard the widespread theory pointing out that "June" is the one name from the Rachel and Leah Center that isn't linked to another character, this was pure coincidence and she never intended that to be a hint:
- "'Why do we never learn the real name of the central character?', I have often been asked. Because, I reply, so many people througout history have had their names changed or have simply disappeared from view. Some have deduced that Offred's real name is June, since, of all the names whispered among the Handmaids in the gymnasium/dormitory, June is the only one that never appears again. That was not my original thought, but it fits, so readers are welcome to it if they wish."