Offred is the main protagonist of The Handmaid's Tale. Offred 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 - both 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, who she develops romantic feelings for.
In the novelEdit
Offred is 33 years old during the main events of the novel. She is 5'7" and has brown hair.
Offred was born around thirty years before the creation of the Republic of Gilead. Her mother was a second-wave feminist, who had a one night stand with Offred's father with the sole purpose of getting pregnant. Offred's father had very little input into her upbringing, choosing to only send her birthday and Christmas cards occasionally. Offred's mother raised her alone and tried to bring up her daughter with her own values: that women were oppressed and needed to fight for their rights, but without much success; Offred herself states that she took much of her personal freedom for granted in the life she lead prior to Gilead's creation. At some point in her life, Offred became best friends with a girl named Moira and they remained close for much of their adult lives. When she was very young, Offred's mother took her along to an anti-pornography rally and persuaded Offred to burn a pornographic magazine; at the time, Offred did not understand what the magazine meant.
Offred attended college along with Moira and started working in an office. Round about this point, Offred met and fell in love with a married man named Luke. They started having an affair, often secretly meeting in hotel rooms in Boston. Eventually, Luke divorced his first wife and married Offred. When she was twenty five, Offred gave birth to their child, a daughter. When her daughter was a baby, a delusional woman attempted to abduct her from in a supermarket, due to the fertility crisis. Fortunately, Offred caught the woman in the act and she was apprehended, with Offred's daughter being returned to her unharmed, to her great relief.
When Offred was thirty, the President was assassinated and the USA was placed under martial law for the public's safety. Offred soon discovered that her bank account was no longer valid and she and the other women in her office were fired from their jobs in the same day. Offred learnt from Moira that women were no longer allowed to hold property. Because Luke had been previously married, Offred and Luke were targeted by the government, as in Gilead, only first marriages were considered valid. Realizing that this was the beginning of the formation of the oppressive state of Gilead, Offred and Luke attempted to flee with their daughter to Canada. Unfortunately, they were captured; Luke was shot trying to escape and Offred did not know if he was alive or dead, and Offred was separated from her daughter and sedated.
Life following Gilead's creationEdit
Because Offred was one of the few women left who was able to bear children, she was sent to the Rachel and Leah, or 'Red Center' with many other fertile women to be indoctrinated into Gilead's belief system and trained to become Handmaids. There, Offred was reunited with Moira. After completing her training, Offred was sent to her first posting, which proved to be unsuccessful. Offred was reassigned, but her second posting did not result in pregnancy either. Offred was then sent to her third posting, at the house of Commander Fred and his wife Serena Joy, where she was given the name "Offred" or "Of-Fred".
Offred's new Commander secretly begins inviting her to his study in the evenings, which is forbidden, talking with her and offering her contraband items such as hand lotion and fashion magazines. He also plays games such as Scrabble with her and confides in her, essentially conducting an emotional affair with her, which Offred goes along with, partly out of fear as to what Fred would do if she refuses, and partly because it is an opportunity for her to rebel and taken back some power for herself. Offred finds herself growing attracted to Fred's personal driver, Nick, which she feels guilty over, believing she is being disloyal to Luke, clinging to the hope he is still alive.
Offred befriends her shopping partner, Ofglen, after learning she does not truly believe in the regime. Offred is excited when Ofglen tells her about Mayday, an underground resistance working to bring down Gilead from within, and offers to let her join. Offred attends the birth of a baby to the Handmaid Ofwarren, whom Offred knew as Janine from the Red Center. Her life becomes more complicated than ever when Serena Joy approaches her and discusses making a deal; if Offred were to sleep with Nick to conceive, then Serena would give her information on her daughter. Desperate for any news of her daughter and to save herself from being declared an Unwoman, Offred agrees to the plan in spite of the risks of being caught and charged with fornication.
One night, the Commander has Offred dress in a skimpy costume, heels and make-up, saying that they going out somewhere. Offred disguises herself with one of Serena's shawls and is taken to a hotel where she used to meet with Luke before they married, which has been converted into a secret brothel, Jezebel's. There, Offred is surprised to see Moira. The two women are briefly able to catch up. Although Offred is glad to see her old friend again, she is disheartened by how apathetic Moira seems to have become, she having given up any hope of breaking free after being captured. Moira also informs Offred she saw footage of her mother working in the Colonies. At first, Offred is relieved, as she thought her mother had been killed, until Moira says she would be better off dead due to the terrible conditions at the Colonies. Offred realises Moira is probably right and grieves for her mother, imagining what her life must be like now.
The Commander brings Offred to a room, which is coincidentally the one she once stayed in with Luke, and initiates sex between them. Offred realises the Commander is treating this like a date, but she feels no attraction or deeper connection to him and simply goes through the motions, as she does during the Ceremony. When she arrives home, an oblivious Serena Joy escorts her to see Nick. Offred willingly sleeps with Nick and does so on a regular basis. She becomes more reckless and stops caring about anything else; she has been deprived of affection for so long that she falls head over heels for Nick, telling him everything about herself in spite of the risks out of a desire to form a connection with him. She starts to believe she may be pregnant, though it is too early to tell and she admits it may just be wishful thinking.
Offred receives a rather brutal wake-up call after attending a women's Salvaging and being forced to take part in a Particicution, which greatly disturbs her, particularly when Ofglen reveals that the condemned was not a rapist as the Aunts claim, but a member of Mayday. When Offred goes to meet Ofglen the next day to go shopping, she is surprised and frightened when she is met by a different Handmaid, Ofglen's replacement, instead. Offred says the code words 'May day' to see if the woman is part of the resistance, however, it becomes clear that whilst the new Ofglen knows of Mayday, she does not support them and warns Offred against being subversive. Offred is terrified that Ofglen has been taken by the Eyes and will mention her rebellious acts to them under torture, and is overcome with relief when the new Ofglen breaks protocol and reveals that her predecessor committed suicide before the Eyes could get to her, when she saw the van coming for her. Offred is saddened by Ofglen's death, but immensely grateful that she sacrificed herself to protect her and her comrades.
Unfortunately, upon arriving home, Offred finds Serena waiting for her with the shawl she wore to Jezebel's, which has lipstick stains on it. Serena berates Offred for betraying her and seeing the Commander behind her back, and orders her to her room. Offred silently obeys. She spends hours sitting in her room, contemplating what will happen to her now. She ponders trying to escape, committing suicide or even burning down the house with herself in it as a final act of defiance, but in the end she does nothing. She sees the van of the Eyes drive up to the house and knows they have come to take her. Nick enters her room to take her down, leading Offred to believe he is an eye, which she feared all along. However, Nick tells her both he and the van are actually from Mayday and that she should go with them, as they will take her to safety. Offred is still wary of him and doesn't know what to believe, but realises she has no choice either way. She calmly walks downstairs, passing Fred, Serena Joy and their Marthas Rita and Cora; she judges from Serena's reaction that she had no involvement in her arrest, which surprises her. Offred is lead outside to the van and steps up into it, accepting whatever fate awaits her.
What happens to Offred after she is taken away in the van is unknown. It is never confirmed whether it was Mayday rescuing her, or if she was being taken by the Eyes after all to be imprisoned. It is revealed in the epilogue that Offred at some point recorded her story on a series of tapes, disguised as ordinary music cassettes and hidden in an airtight tin, which were found decades later after the Republic of Gilead fell from power. The tapes are studied in universities and believed to be authentic, though due to Offred not having access to certain information or choosing not to mention it, as well as her using many pseudonyms in her story, presumably to protect her loved ones's identities, who she really was and what became of her are unknown.
However, given that Offred was able to access a recording device, tell her story and successfully hide the tapes, this would imply that at some point she was able to escape Gilead, adding more weight to the possibility that it was Mayday who came for her towards the end of the novel. It remains unknown if Offred ever saw her daughter again, or if she was truly pregnant with Nick's child, as she believed. It is also hinted in the novel that her true first name could be June, as during a flashback at the Red Center, Offred mentions that she and the other Handmaids exchanged names. All the other women mentioned are brought up again at some point, save for June, indicating that June is Offred. Alternatively, June could be yet another a pseudonym Offred chose.
In the Hulu series EditOffred is portrayed by actress Elisabeth Moss. In the television series, Offred's name is explicitly stated to be June, which was speculated upon in the novel.
In the film Edit
Offred is portrayed by Natasha Richardson. In this adaption, Offred's real name is stated to be Kate. Her role remains much the same; however, her final fate is altered to be less ambiguous. Offred ends up killing the Commander, and is shown to have successfully fled Gilead. She is seen living in a trailer and heavily pregnant with Nick's child, hoping to one day be reunited with her daughter.
- 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 was most likely done intentionally by Margaret Atwood, reflecting the different roles 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.