“"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.
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. After her daughter was born, a delusional woman attempted to abduct her from the hospital 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.
Early years Edit
In her childhood, June's mom takes her to a "Take Back The Night" rally. The women protesting are tossing paper slips with the names of their rapists on these slips into fires set in trash cans..
Before Gilead Edit
The first time she meets Luke, he is still married to another woman. They continue meeting up for innocent lunches, where she learns that Luke hasn't told his wife about them. After an affair with June he leaves his first wife for her.
Annie, Luke’s first wife, confronts June after a yoga class. She accuses her of sabotaging a vow made before God. June is clearly affected by the encounter. Luke brings June back to herself, saying "she doesn’t matter" because they’re "going to get married" and he's going to "make her happy."
June's mom asks her if she likes the job at the publishing place. She says she does. Her mom tells her that she sacrificed for her and that she's settling. She asks about Luke and tells June that she doesn't think she should marry him. Her mom tells her that she thinks its a mistake.
In expectation of their daughter’s birth, Luke drives June to the hospital amidst crowds of people protesting the recent sharp decline in birth-rates. She is greatly relieved to learn that Hannah is a healthy baby. Shortly after her birth, June wakes up to find Hannah is gone. She initially assumes she’s been taken for a blood test, until sirens begin blaring throughout the hospital. Luke urges June to stay where she is whilst he goes to investigate. June follows Luke regardless and is horrified at the sight of one of the nurses lying on the ground in a puddle of blood, either dead or unconscious. June then runs into a woman holding Hannah. She insists Hannah is her child – it’s implied her own baby died, causing her to have a psychological breakdown. June watches in horror, futilely attempting to explain that Hannah is her baby. Luke arrives, but this prompts the woman to try to flee with Hannah. Fortunately, the police and Luke intervene, returning Hannah to June while the woman is arrested.
Annie runs into Luke, June, and baby Hannah at a coffee store. She and June make eye contact, and then Annie slips away.
June asks Luke to sign a form so that she can pick up her birth control prescription. As she's leaving, she suggests that she doesn't pick it up and surprisingly, Luke agrees. They kiss before June leaves to take Hannah to school.
June is called away from work to go pick up Hannah, who was running a fever, from the hospital. There she is asked a bunch of questions about her capacity as a parent. June then takes Hannah home from the hospital. Luke is waiting for them and they learn that there was an act of terrorism on the capital. There was also an explosion at the White House and that martial law was declared. ("June")
During the coup d'etat Edit
In a retrospect from the present, Offred blames herself (and the former society around her) for having been "asleep" at that time, which was "how we let it happen": "When they slaughtered Congress, we didn't wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn't wake up then either. They said it would be temporary. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub you'd be boiled to death before you knew it."
June and Moira learn that the government has frozen all women's bank accounts and they cannot use any of their credit cards. June and all the other women in her office are "let go" from their jobs, due to the new law stating women are no longer allowed to work or hold property. June and Moira take part in a protest against the new laws, only for the police to turn violence, using machine guns against the crowds. The protesters flee, with June holding Moira's hand and narrowly escaping by hiding in a shop.
June, Luke and Hannah try to escape to Canada and hide in the trunk of their car while a man called Mr. Whitford drives them to a secluded cabin near the border. Mr Whitford tells them he still needs to grab them Canadian passports, because U.S. passports "don't mean shit no more". Before he leaves, Mr. Whitford teaches Luke how to shoot a gun, which he is clearly uneasy about.
After learning that Whitford has been killed, they try to reach the Canadian border on their own, but their car is spotted by a patrol. They crash at the side of the road, and Luke tells June to take Hannah and run from the Guardians pursuing them . June runs through the woods with Hannah, pausing when she hears gunshots. She tries to hide with Hannah behind a rock, but they are eventually caught. Hannah is ripped away from June, who tries to struggle free, only to be knocked unconscious. She wakes up as she is being transported in a van.
At the Red Center Edit
June and various other women are brought in the Red Center, where they forcibly get their ears tagged. Aunt Lydia then indoctrinates them into their handmaid roles, telling them about declining birth rates and that they are "special", serving a Biblical purpose. This is also where June and Moira meet again.
Janine is forced to 'confess' her sins and tell the story of her gang-rape. Aunt Lydia explains that Janine brought the rape upon herself and the other Handmaids are made to shame Janine. As June hesitates, she is slapped by "Aunt Margaret".
Aunt Lydia shows them a slideshow of all the horrible things that have happened. One of the pictures is of June's mother working on a farm. Later, in bed, Moira asks June how she thinks they got her Mom. She doesn't know but that she told her that it wasn't safe what she was doing. Moira tells her that she was right but June says so was she. That she knew this would happen. June says that she waited before but she swore she wouldn't do that again.
June attempts to escape with Moira; they take Aunt Elizabeth captive and Moira takes her clothes and pass to disguise herself as an Aunt. They make it to the train station, but June draws the attention of a Guardian who becomes suspicious. Seeing Moira has a chance to escape on the train that has just arrived, June silently gives her her blessing and Moira flees, whilst June is taken back to the Red Center.
Aunt Lydia has June tied down whilst Aunt Elizabeth whippes the soles of her feet as punishment. June's fellow Handmaids later secretly rally around her, giving her scraps of food they've saved from meals.
In the present, season oneEdit
June, now called by her patronymic Offred, has been assigned to the household of Commander Fred Waterford and his wife Serena Joy (which she states is her second posting). She goes shopping with Ofglen, whom she initially thinks of as “pious little shit with a broomstick up her ass”, and has a brief conversation with Nick; she is clearly wary of his attempts to befriend her, wondering if he could be an Eye. On the way back from the store, Offred and Ofglen stop by the Wall and see the bodies of three executed men. Offred recalls her time at the Red Center and her friendship with Moira. She narrates that the fact Moira is not up on the Wall gives her hope.
That evening, Offred has to prepare for the Ceremony. When it is over, Serena Joy angrily orders Offred to leave. Offred hesitates and says that having her rest on her back increases the chances of conceiving, but Serena orders her out regardless. That night, Offred, distraught by the Ceremony, runs outside in only her nightgown and retches. She realises Nick is watching her and hurries back to her room, worried he may report her. The next day, Offred must attend a Salvaging. She sees Janine there, who tells her Moira is dead – she allegedly attempted to run away, was caught and sent to the Colonies, leaving Offred reeling.
Aunt Lydia announces that they are here to execute a man who was convicted for raping a pregnant Handmaid, resulting in the baby’s death. This enrages Offred, who is already distraught over the news of Moira’s death. Offred is first of the Handmaid’s to strike the man, kicking him to the ground and beating him. Afterwards, Offred seems stunned and remorseful over what she did. As she is walking home with Ofglen, the latter expresses sympathy for what happened to Moira. Offred tentatively reveals she knew Moira both at the Red Center and in the time before. The two women end up outside a clothing store, which Ofglen reveals was once an ice cream parlour. When she claims the ice cream was “better than good sex”, Offred realises Ofglen is not a true believer in the regime after all. Ofglen in turn reveals she always thought the same of Offred, saying that Gilead is good at turning women against each other.
Offred tells Ofglen about her family and failed escape attempt, whilst Ofglen in turn reveals she had a wife and son, Oliver, who fled to Canada. At the gate of Offred’s house, Ofglen warns Offred that an Eye is a member of household. Offred is left wondering which memberrr of the house could possibly be the Eye. She witnesses Waterford heading into a meeting with other Commanders, before being sent to her room by Serena. Sitting alone in her room, Offred vows to find a way to survive for her daughter’s sake and reveals her true name is June.
Offred goes shopping with Ofglen. They come across the remain of St Paul’s cathedral, which Gilead are in the process of destroying. Offred is upset at the sight, remarking that it was her father’s parish and that her daughter was baptised there. Ofglen adds that they blew up another cathedral in New York and dumped the remains in the Hudson River, prompting Offred to ask how she knows this and how she knows there’s an Eye in her house. They see a man being dragged off the street by two Eyes and bundled into the back of a van. Offred seems relieved it wasn’t her, though sympathetic towards the man, and Ofglen remarks it’s okay to feel relief. As they reach Offred’s house, Ofglen reveals she is part of a rebel group, simply saying she could “join us”. She explains that Offred’s Commander is very high up in the government and urges Offred to find out anything she can.
Whilst taking her cloak off after being caught out in the rain, Offred has a brief conversation with Nick. She accidentally uncovers her bare leg; Nick stares at her, but merely says she should be careful. He tells Offred she shouldn’t trust Ofglen, because she’s “dangerous”, surprising Offred. She is in for another shock, as Nick then informs Offred that the Commander wants to see her tonight in his study. After some time, a Birthmobile arrives at the house to pick Offred up to attend the birth of a baby. In the Birthmobile, Offred is informed that Ofwarren is the one who has gone into labour. On the way to Commander Warren’s house, Offred has flashbacks of her own daughter’s birth.
At Commander Warren’s house, Offred is clearly amused by the sight of Warren’s Wife pretending to be in labour in a symbolic gesture, but quickly goes upstairs when Serena Joy catches her eye. Offred helps the other Handmaids and Aunt Lydia support Ofwarren throughout the birth, with Offred assuring her she’s doing fine and touching her belly. Offred has more flashbacks to Hannah’s birth.
Offred sees Ofglen and tells her that her Commander wants to see her in private. Ofglen is worried about this and offers to try and find out what Fred might want with her. Some of the Wives offer Offred a cookie. She accepts, having little other choice, prompting the Wives to patronisingly remark how “well behaved” she is. Serena sends Offred back upstairs. As she is walking out, she overhears the Wives remarking that all the Handmaids are “little whores, but you have to take what they give out”. Feeling unwell, Offred goes to the bathroom and spits out her mouthful of cookie, then defiantly leaves the chewed remains in the sink.
Ofwarren gives birth to a healthy girl. She is immediately given to the Wife, who names her Angela. Offred tries to comfort Ofwarren, assuring her that her baby is healthy and hugging her. Whilst riding the Birthmobile back home, Ofglen says she was unable to find out what the Commander might want, but tries to reassure Offred, saying he “probably just wants a blowjob”. Offred is extremely nervous going to meet the Commander. To her complete shock, the Commander simply asks her play Scrabble with him. He reveals he’s going away to Washington DC next week to attend meetings, but says he’d like to see Offred again in private when he returns. After coming back to her room, Offred begins laughing hysterically, trying to muffle the sound with her hand. The next day, Offred is on her way to meet Ofglen and seems amused by Nick’s apparent jealousy over her secret meeting with the Commander. Offred intends to tell Ofglen what happened, but when she approaches her, she is shocked to see a completely different Handmaid. Wary of her, Offred gives out the usual greetings before tentatively asking if Ofglen has been reassigned so soon. The other Handmaid merely replies that she is Ofglen and makes no other comment. Offred is forced to accept this, mentally exclaiming “Fuck!”.
Rita and Serena Joy begin treating Offred far more kindly, including giving her treats and flowers. She is initially confused, until Rita explains that, due to her period being late, they hope she might be pregnant. Serena invites Offred to the Putnams to see baby Angela. Offred gets to hold Angela and learns that Janine bit Mrs Putnam when she tried to take Angela. Offred goes to see Janine, who tells her that her Commander is love with her and wants to run away with her. Offred is surprised and skeptical, but says nothing.
Whilst Nick is driving Offred home, she attempts to make conversation, noticing he seems upset about something. As they pull up to the house, Nick says she needs to remember two things: being tough or brave won't work because they break everyone in the end and she should tell them everything. Offred then sees a black van parked in the drive.
Inside the house, Offred is interrogated by an Eye and Aunt Lydia about Ofglen. She answers as honestly as possible whilst omitting the fact that Ofglen is a member of a rebel network. They then suggest that Ofglen may have tried to "touch" Offred, which she denies. When Offred admits that she knew Ofglen was a 'Gender Traitor', they ask why she didn't report the conversation. Offred replies that Ofglen was her friend. Aunt Lydia tells her that Ofglen was a "beast" and "abomination against God", angering Offred. When Lydia tells her to "remember her Scripture", Offred defiantly quotes another Scripture passage: "And blessed are those who suffer for the cause of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".
Infuriated, Lydia tasers Offred and begins beating her, but is stopped by Serena, who declares she's pregnant. Offred, recuperating in her room, is visited by Nick, who has brought her ice for her injuries. He confesses he wished he'd just driven away with her, moving Offred, and they share a brief but intimate moment before Nick abruptly leaves. Later that night, however, Offred realises she's not pregnant when she starts her period.
The next morning, Offred reluctantly goes to tell Serena Joy, who is clearing out a spare room, apparently to make a nursery. She tells Offred how she and Fred struggled for years to concieve, but she never lost faith and believes God delivered a miracle to her in the form of Offred. She is then forced to confess that she began her period. Serena is enraged by this, dragging Offred to her room, throwing her to the ground and shouting at her that she is not to leave. She threateningly reminds Offred that "things could get a lot worse for you" before leaving Offred lying on the floor, crying.
Offred has been confined to her room for the past week. She becomes increasingly depressed, trapped inside without anything to do. Whilst exploring her closet, she discovers her predecessor had carved the words 'Nolite te bastardes carborundorum' in the wall near the floor. She has flashbacks to visiting a fairground with Luke and Hannah and also to her time at the Red Center, when she and Moira plotted to escape.
Offred ends up falling asleep in the closet and is found by Rita when she comes to give her food. Rita is shocked at the sight, dropping the tray and waking Offred. She helps Rita clean up the dropped food and insists she is fine, claiming she fainted. She begs Rita not to tell anyone, but Rita tell Serena Joy, who says she should go to the doctor's for a check-up.
Offred is looking forward to being able to go outside, only to be told Nick will be driving her. At the clinic, the doctor suggests to Offred she sleep with him to conceive, as the Commander may not even be able to get her pregnant due to sterility. The doctor says he has done this with other Handmaids, assuring her it "only takes a minute" and reminding her that she will be blamed if she cannot get pregnant. Offred, however, declines his offer, saying it is too dangerous.
On her way home, Offred has more memories of her day out with her family and has a small break-down, crying, screaming and hitting the car door. During the Ceremony, the Commander is unable to get an erection and Serena Joy orders her to leave. Later, Offred goes to see the Commander in his study. She asks him about the Latin phrase. He reveals it is pseudo-Latin meaning "Don't let the bastards grind you down" and Offred realises her predecessor heard it from him. He asks if Offred knew the previous Handmaid; Offred is evasive and asks what happened to her. The Commander reveals she hanged herself from the chandelier that used to be in her room. Offred, seeing a chance to manipulate the Commander, persuades him to allow her outside, saying she has been feeling like "giving up".
Offred is happy to finally be allowed outside again. She joins the new Ofglen and other Handmaids on her way to the store, reminding herself of the phrase her predecessor carved as a message for her.
Offred and Commander Fred continue their nightly game of Scrabble. On one of these nights, the Commander gives Offred a present; a fashion magazine from before Gilead. Serena Joy calls Offred outside to tell her she's asked Nick to try and impregnate Offred. She suspects the Commander is infertile, so before the Ceremony, Serena Joy plans to take Offred to Nick's apartment.
While grocery shopping, Offred and a few other Handmaids run into Ofsteven (formerly Ofglen) where she learns about Mayday. The new Ofglen grabs Offred before she can learn anything else. She tells Offred that she used to be a junkie, and that she likes being a Handmaid because she has a safe place to sleep and her people are nice.
Serena Joy secretly brings Offred to Nick's apartment, where she waits as they have sex. They finish, and Serene Joy tells Offred to lie down in her room, after saying a prayer to encourage her to become pregnant.
Later that night, during the Ceremony, the Commander touches Offred's thigh and looks at her, which is forbidden. She tries to tell him so, but is scolded, called an adulteress, and told to leave. In their ensuing conversation, the Commander admits that while they thought they were building a better world, they knew that "better never means better for everyone - It always means worse for some." Offred gets sick and goes to throw up in the kitchen sink, where she runs into Nick. She asks him if he's an Eye, and he tells her yes. He apologizes for earlier, and explains that he couldn't say no to Serena Joy.
The next day, at the market, Offred runs into Ofsteven, who encourages her to find Mayday. She also tells Offred her real name, Emily, before stealing a car and running over one of the guards. She's taken away as the Handmaids look in horror.
Upon arriving home, Offred sneaks into Nick's apartment, where they have sex.
Mexican delegates visit the Commander's home in an effort to create partnerships in trade and see the effects of the Gilead cultural movement. The head of the Mexican delegation, Mrs. Castillo, is a woman who questions Offred about her experience in Gilead. With great self-control, Offred tells them, "I have found happiness". After the meeting, Offred visits the Commander's office for their usual discussions where some tensions flare up between them. He asks her to kiss him "like you mean it". She kisses the Commander and leaves, ferociously brushing her teeth afterwards. The handmaids are then taken to a party to honour Gilead and show the foreign delegates their success, including presenting the children of Gilead. Alma remarks that the delegates are interested in fertile women as a commodity to be traded between the two nations.
After the dinner, Offred visits Nick, fiercely blaming herself for keeping quiet about the brutal truth of her fate. She reveals him her real name June.
The next day, as the delegates are leaving, Offred tells them the brutal truth about Gilead and accuses them of human trafficking. She pleads for their help, but the Mexican ambassador claims that she cannot help Offred and explains her own country's dire situation. When Offred is left alone with Mr Flores, the ambassador's assistant, he informs her that Luke is alive and well in Canada, whereas Offred had assumed he was killed when they were captured at the border (though she did not witness his death, she heard shots being fired and never saw him again). Mr Flores knows Luke's full name, birthdate and birthplace, and also knows Offred's real name prior to meeting her, implying that what he says may be true. Mr Flores offers to help Offred contact Luke he can send a message to him.
Offred sits on the bed as Nick sleeps, trying to remember her husband Luke. It becomes evident that they both really care for each other. Offred returns to her room and is surprised to find Commander Fred Waterford waiting for her with gifts including makeup, a revealing dress and high-heeled shoes. After shaving her legs and getting dressed up, the two, driven by Nick, head to a surprise destination. Disguised as Serena Joy Waterford, Offred slips by guards.
Mr. Waterford, Offred and Nick enter the back of a building, meandering through hallways and elevators, finding themselves in Jezebel's, a secret brothel/sex club where well-to-do men frequent. Visibly shaken, Offred sees Moira across the bar. Having to hide the shock, Offred excuses herself to the women's restroom and finds Moira. The two have an emotional reunion, but Moira is shooed out by a superior. Moira tells Offred to find her later.
Mr. Waterford and Offred are in a hotel room and as Mr. Waterford tells Offred all about his current frustrations and fears, he seduces her. Offred silently cries as he advances on her. Later while Mr. Waterford is sleeping, Offred sneaks down to see Moira. Moira tells her about her escape, the last time they saw each other, and how she found her post at Jezebel's. After insisting that they can't escape, Moira shuts Offred down and sends her away.
Serena Joy returns from her mothers house the next morning. As Nick brings her bags through the kitchen, Offred notices Nick's aloofness and asks if she can seem him later. When he says he doesn't want to see her anymore because it's too dangerous, she demands a reason stating that if she indeed is murdered for her actions, at least someone will remember her. She mentions that she knows nothing about him and he tells her that his full name is Nick Blaine and that he is from Michigan, but that is all. Offred leaves the room upset.
On her way up to her room, Serena Joy stops her and gives her the gift of a music box with a ballerina spinning to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Offred uses the key to carve "You Are Not Alone" next to the Latin message in the closet.
Offred reaches out to Alma to become a part of "Mayday" and contribute to the resistance movement. Alma resists at first but ultimately accepts Offred's offer and gives her her first assignment - get a mystery package from "Rachel at the bar" in the Jezebel's club and hold on to it until further notice.
Offred goes to Mr. Waterford's office to flirt with him and convince him to take her again to Jezebel's. He complies and they sneak out that night after Mrs. Waterford goes to bed. When they're in the club, they go straight to the room. Mr. Waterford ordered Offred a "surprise" - a girl, Ruby, aka Moira. He noticed that they looked friendly the last time they were at the club so he thought it would be a nice surprise. Moira is furious that Offred is back at the club and a part of the rebellion movement. She refuses to get Rachel's Package for Offred.
Offred isn't able to retrieve the package when she's at the club, they return home. The next morning, Mrs. Waterford wakes up Offred to rush to help Janine, who is threatening to jump off a bridge with her daughter to be free. Offred convinces her to release the baby, which Janine does right before she jumps off. She ends up in a coma.
Offred is next seen going to the supermarket where she orders some meat. The butcher slyly gives her the secret package that she was supposed to retrieve at Jezebel's, with a note from Moira attached.
Serena Joy discovers that Offred went to the Jezebel's club with Mr. Waterford and strikes Offred down on the ground to punish her. She then forces Offred to take a pregnancy test, which then shows that Offred is pregnant. Offred is miserable after hearing the news because she doesn't want to bring a child into this unjust world. She then reveals to Nick that she is pregnant, much to his shock. Knowing that the child is almost certainly his, they share a brief tender moment.
Serena Joy then takes Offred on a surprise trip, several hours away. Serena meets with Hannah, Offred's daughter, to show Offred that if she harms herself or the baby then Hannah will be in danger. Offred screams in misery and calls Serena an evil monster. Offred then runs to Mr. Waterford to ask him to protect her daughter.
All of the handmaidens are called to come together to stone someone who endangered a child. To their surprise, that someone is Janine. The handmaids hesitate and Ofglen #2 is brutally beaten by a guard when she breaks rank and voices her angry refusal. The other women, beginning with Offred, drop their stones, each saying "I'm sorry, Aunt Lydia" (a phrase they were taught early in their indoctrination). The guards are ready to kill them all, but Aunt Lydia frantically tells them that the handmaids are her responsibility.. Aunt Lydia promises that they will all be punished and sends them home.
In the last scene, Offred is in her room waiting for someone to come and punish her. Nick comes in and tells Offred to "Just go with them" and insists that she trust him. Two armed guards come in and lead Offred away, to the surprise and horror of Serena Joy and Fred. Offred walks off willingly, unsure if this is her end or a brand new beginning.
Season two, present time Edit
Offred, along with other handmaids, is taken to an abandoned baseball field, quickly revealed to be a deserted, run-down, but very much still recognizable Fenway Park. There there are scaffolds erected with nooses. Each handmaid is given a noose and the lever is pulled. Instead of dropping down completely and breaking their necks, the platform only drops a few feet. It was all just a scare tactic set up by Aunt Lydia in order to give them a lesson that they'd remember.
The handmaids are all forced to sit in the rain with their hands extended while holding a rock. Aunt Lydia walks around electrocuting them but stops when she is informed of Offred's pregnancy. Offred is removed from the exercise and taken inside to get dry. Aunt Lydia, excited about the prospect of a new child, goes and rings the bell.
Aunt Lydia offers Offred a bowl of soup but she says she isn't hungry. She tells her that they are going to take care of her while she's pregnant just as long as she's a good girl. Janine is mentioned and Aunt Lydia tells Offred that she was sent to the colonies. To show her what will happen if she continues to be defiant, Aunt Lydia takes her to see another pregnant handmaid. This one is chained to a small living space. Offred decides that she is hungry and is taken back to the cafeteria. There the other handmaids a brought in soaking wet and forced to form two straight lines. Aunt Lydia takes them one by one and chains them to the stove. She burns their hands as punishment for their defiance.
Offred is taken to be examined by a doctor. Commander Fred and Serena Joy are there with her. They are shown their child on the monitor and Serena kisses Offred's forehead in thanks. Offred is left alone and begins to put her shoes on when a key falls out from her boot. The key gets her into the stairwell and she follows red marks that lead her down into a long tunnel beneath the facility. At the end, there is a refrigerated truck loaded with hogs waiting for her to take her away from this place.
Serena evesdrops on her husband as he tries to find Offred. She goes up to Offred's old room and sits on her window sill.
When the truck stops again, a butcher leads her into an empty corporate building and asks her to stay until someone comes for her. Nick is there waiting. He tells her to get out of her clothes and to cut her hair. She takes off her clothes and burns them along with the locks of hair that she cut off. She uses the scissors to remove the tag from her ear. She is finally free.
June is laying in the back of a truck as they move her to a safe location, which looks to be a generic abandoned industrial building, but later reveals to be the home of the Boston Globe newspaper. She hears sirens approaching and freaks out but nobody comes inside to find her.
June wanders around the Boston Globe. Walking among office cubicles, she silently ganders at the materials and matter which characterized the world before Gilead. Sports merchandise (Boston Red Sox in particular), family photos, and knick-knacks all decorate the abandoned cubicles; she even finds a DVD of the TV show Friends. June later wanders down to the basement, where she stumbles upon a line of nooses hung on the rafters. She then turns to the wall, which is stained with blood and littered with bullet holes. June is horrified and sickened at the sight of what was obviously a massacre, and briefly cries in silence. Suddenly, she hears noises. She hides but its only Nick. She asks him to get her out of here because it's a slaughterhouse. He tells her that she has to wait a couple of weeks. She tells him that they need to find Hannah but he says no. She asks for him to give her his keys to the car. He gives them to her and he gives her a gun. She goes to the car and gets in to leave. Nick stands there watching her. She starts to hit the steering wheel because she knows she isn't going to leave. She gets out of the car and gives him back the keys and the gun. They begin to kiss and have sex. They finish and she looks at him. He tells her he can't anymore. She says to try.
June watches FRIENDS on a laptop. She suddenly gets up and grabs a box. She goes desk to desk and picks stuff from each one to put into it. She sets up a candle vigil for the people who had been murdered downstairs.
June is seen running through the Boston Globe as she exercises. She stops in front of the mural, and we learn that she's been in the building for two months. We see her listening to a recording of an interview with an early "Sons of Jacob" member and digging through newspapers cutting out clippings. She pins the clippings to the walls under categories like 'Power Structure', 'Militarization' and 'Curtailment of Civil Rights'. While staring at the wall, she 'tells' the clippings in a voiceover "You were there all the time but no one noticed you". She adds "not no one" and then thinks about her mother Holly and how she took her to a "Take Back The Night" rally once when she was young. The women protesting were tossing paper slips with the names of their rapists on these slips into fires set in trash cans. Meanwhile, in the present, Nick arrives and gives June coffee. He tells her that he should probably get going soon, and tells her that she might be leaving the Boston Globe soon. He promises to come back on Tuesday. June says that she can't leave, and Nick says it will be better for everyone. June replies that better doesn't always mean better for everyone, and after some comforting, they hug.
June checks the garage and is told that she will be leaving. After being assured that the stuff she left behind will be disposed of, she grabs her coat and climbs into the back of the truck. She looks back at the building as they drive away, lamenting about the time that June goes to her mom's house to pick up a mixer, and while she's there, she tells her mother's group of friends what she does for a living. Everyone seems to be impressed, with the exception of June's mother, who seems to be more interested in Moira's activities. June is dropped off at another location and told that someone would come along to get her soon. She looks around and finds lots of signs that have been taken down, since they have words on them that women could read. Suddenly, someone asks her if she's a good witch or a bad witch. Startled, June turns to find a man, Omar, looking at her. He tells her to come with him, and that they're going to smuggle her into Canada. She asks who is they and he says someone brave, stupid, or both. As they are walking to his car, he gets an alert that the safe house he's about to take her to isn't safe. He tries to leave her behind but June begs him to take her with him. Caving in, the man puts her into the back of his car. She thanks him but he tells her to get down.
He takes her to his home where his wife Heather doesn't approve of her being there, and has a discussion with her husband. While they talk, their son plays with June until they come back out. The wife says that she can't believe that June would let her baby be taken away. The next day, the family leaves for church, while June stays at the apartment, reassured that the couple would return by 2:00. During a flashback, June's mom asks her if she likes the job at the publishing place, to which June replies positively. Her mom tells her that she sacrificed for her and that she's settling, and then asks about Luke and tells June that she doesn't think that June should marry him. Her mom tells her that she thinks it's a mistake. Just as June comes back to reality, someone knocks at the door. June hides under a bed, where she discovers a hidden Koran. as well as a carpet for praying. June then wanders around the apartment because out of boredom while thinking about Hannah. Eventually, once it is 2:00, the couple don't return like they promised.
June starts thinking about the time that Aunt Lydia showed the handmaids a slideshow of all the horrible things that have happened to the unwomen, and Gilead's plan to re fertilize the Colonies. and one of the pictures is of June's mother working in the colonies, which leaves June distraught, and Moira puts her hand on June's to comfort her. Later in bed, Moira asks June how she thinks they got her mother. Moira says she doesn't know, and June says that it isn't safe what she's doing. Moira agrees with her, and June says "so was her", that her mother had a feeling that this would happen. June says that she "waited before", but she swears she won't repeat her mistakes. She then steals one of the econowife's outfits, and walks to a trainstation. She gets on a train and pulls out a map she hid in the uniform to check where she's going, and decides to take the train all the way to the last stop. When she gets off, she goes through the woods. She thinks about Hannah as she runs and how Hannah left her once but now June has to leave her. She gets to a field appearing to have housed a regional airport pre-Gilead, runway and all.
After some brief questioning by the Mayday people smuggler she was supposed to meet, June boards a plane with another refugee who claims to have been a chauffeur for Commander Wells. June reminisces about her mom and how they sang Hollerback Girl in a car during a roadtrip, as well as thinking about Hannah. However, just as the plane departs, Guardians intercept the aircraft and shoot at it, a stray bullet hitting the other refugee in the car, and forcing the plane to land. The pilot is forced out of the plane and executed (presumably) for treason. Following this, Guardians open the cargo hold, first grabbing a chauffeur, and forcing him (screaming) out of the aircraft, and then, despite her best attempts to escape, grab June and force her out as well.
June is taken back to the Red Center, where she is retagged and chained to a small living space. As Aunt Lydia explains, the Waterfords are willing to take June back for a "trial run". June’s other option is to stay in that room, counting flowers on the bedspread (there are 71), and to be eventually executed after giving birth.
The Waterfords greet her stiffly and formally. Commander Fred speaks of the tremendous effort it took to save June from her “kidnapping” at the hands of an "insidious terrorist network." Serena later dashes into June’s bedroom and pins her into a chokehold. As June catches her breath she reminds Serena that "as long as my baby is safe, so is yours." Aunt Lydia watches June bathe and makes sure she scrubs the "nasty bacteria down there".
On June’s first morning back in the Waterford house, Rita returns June the package of letters from Mayday that she’d been saving for the past 92 days because "she can't" anymore. June hides the letters behind the tub.
Downstairs, everyone’s preparing for the baby shower party that afternoon. Aunt Lydia is still around and forces June to drink a specially prepared vitamin shake, which she spits up.
At the party, Serena opens up a bunch of handmade presents from the other Wives. June, who’s supposed to stay silent, pipes in by saying that the baby kicked for the first time last night. Serena retreats to the yard with a cigarette. Lydia tells Serena that everything that happens now must be for the good of the child, and thus she should stop smoking cigarettes.
When some fellow handmaids arrive to the party, Alma briefly informs June that Mayday has gone silent and is "done helping handmaids". She adds that Ofglen (#2) had her tongue cut out, which is the part that is not June's fault, pointing on her scarred wrist.
Aunt Lydia takes June to the river, where men are hanging on The Wall. Lydia identifies one as Omar, the van driver who harbored June. Lydia informs June that his wife became a handmaid and the son was given away. Lydia emphasizes that June is responsible for Omar’s death, not Offred.
That evening, June begs for forgiveness in front of all the members of the Waterford household and to be again Offred. Serena later crawls into bed with Offred and caresses her stomach. When Serena leaves, Offred goes into the closet, repeating to herself: “My fault. My fault. My fault."
Aunt Lydia is still regularly monitoring Offred’s pregnancy at the Waterfords. She weighs her, measures the size of the baby, considers her mental state. She even gets to take notes with a pencil, in a case of "special dispensation" for aunts, as she explains to an astonished Serena, who encourages Aunt Lydia to leave and takes clear offense when Lydia says one of her jobs is to observe the "mood" of the home in which Offred is carrying the baby.
While on the toilet, Offred sees she’s bleeding. Later, she’s soaking in a bathtub full of blood. She maintains her routine after, however, carrying on like nothing’s wrong. Only Rita notices she’s weakening.
The Waterfords head to a Prayvaganza chaired by Commander Pryce in which the handmaids and wives sit in rows while a ceremony takes place down below. Nick, among other Guardians, is escorted out to the main floor. Young brides, their faces covered by veils, then march onto the floor and stand opposite the men being “honored.” As Nick lifts his bride's veil, he sees a girl, Eden, who is much younger than him
The Waterfords with Offred, Nick, and Eden return from the Prayvaganza. When Offred retreats to her chamber, she struggles up the stairs, still evidently bleeding. She moves around her room.
In the meantime, Nick and the Commander share a “celebratory” drink to close out the night, toasting “to good women.” When heading back to his quarters in the pouring rain, Nick finds Offred outside, passed out and covered in blood, and screams for help.
Offred wakes up in a hospital bed, Serena sleeping in a chair opposite her, and appears stunned by her and the baby’s survival. She goes to get the doctor. Left alone, June talks to her unborn child: “You’re tough, aren’t you? I will not let you grow up in this place. I won’t do it. Do you hear me? They do not own you. And they do not own what you will become. I’m going to get you out of here. I’m going to get us out of here. I promise you.”
During an ultrasound, the doctor tells Serena that Offred’s bleeding was due to a subchorionic hematoma and she should be fine now, adding the baby "needs harmony within the household". Back at home, Serena has Offred move in the sitting room so she doesn’t have to go up and down the stairs. In a moment alone with Offred, Nick points out he didn’t have a choice to marry Eden and still thinks about "the three of us".
That night, Nick and Eden have dinner at their apartment, where she tells him that her mother taught her "about everything" that would be expected of her as a wife. Nick steps outside to smoke. Meanwhile, Serena sits by the couch while Offred gets ready to go to sleep and lets Serena put her hands on her belly.
The next day, Eden tells Offred about Nick's permanent aloofness. She fears he is a gender traitor. Offred reassures her he will be "a great father for her children".
Serena invites four handmaids (Alma, Ofglen (#2), Oferic, and Ofsamuel) for a surprise lunch with Offred. Later, Serena takes Offred up to the nursery to see how she’s decorated it. When Offred asks to see Hannah, Serena angrily refuses and orders her to get her things out from downstairs to go back to her old room.
When Nick runs into Offred soon after, she insists he has to deflower his wife. That night, Nick and his new bride have sex for the first time.
Fred sneaks into Offred’s room while she sleeps and shows her a Polaroid of Hannah in her pink Subservient-in-Training uniform. Offred thanks him and cries as she stares at the photo, which the commander takes as an invitation to start pawing at her belly, then her breast, telling her he missed her. She responds that sex probably wouldn’t be great for the baby. He backs off quickly, leaving the photo with her.
To the opening of the new Rachel and Leah Center, Commanders from all of the districts are there. As Commander Waterford addresses the men who’ve gathered, a whole bunch of handmaids stand along the auditorium’s back wall. Ofglen (#2) steps out of line and turns to face her fellow maids, raising one hand so everyone can see that she’s holding a detonator. The women start to run. Ofglen then walks into the assembly, holds up her hand once more and presses the buttom. As the red-clad women run for safety, a huge explosion rocks the center.
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 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."