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 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.
Offred is first seen sitting in the backseat of a car with Hannah; Luke is driving. They crash at the side of the road. Luke tells Offred to take Hannah and run from the Guardians pursuing them. Offred 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 Offred, who tries to struggle free, only to be knocked unconscious. She wakes up as she is being transported in a van to the Red Center.
In the present, 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 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, Luke driving her to hospital amidst crowds of people protesting the recent sharp decline in birth-rates.
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. She is greatly relieved to learn that Hannah is a healthy baby. Shortly after her birth, Offred woke up to find Hannah was gone. She initially assumed she’d been taken for a blood test, until sirens began blaring throughout the hospital. Luke urged Offred to stay where she was whilst he went to investigate. Offred follows Luke regardless and is horrified at the sight of one of the urses lying on the ground in a puddle of blood, either dead or unconscious. Offred 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. Offred watches in horror, futilely attempting to explain that Hannah is her baby. Luke arrives, but this prompts the woman to try and flee with Hannah. Fortunately, the police and Luke intervene, returning Hannah to Offred while the woman is arrested.
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.
Offred has flashbacks to when her bank account was frozen and she and all the other women in her office were fired from their jobs, due to the law stating they are no longer allowed to work or hold property. 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 recalls taking part in a protest against the new laws with Moira, only for the police to turn violent, using machine guns against the crowds. The protesters flee, with Offred holding Moira's hand and narrowly escaping by hiding in a shop. 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 recalls her failed escape attempt with Moira; they took an Aunt, Elizabeth, captive and Moira took her clothes and pass to disguise herself as an Aunt. They made to the train station, but Offred drew the attention of a Guardian who became suspicious. Seeing Moira had a chance to escape on the train that had just arrived, Offred silently gave her her blessing and Moira fled, whilst Offred was taken back to the Red Center.
Aunt Lydia had her tied down whilst Aunt Elizabeth whipped the soles of her feet as punishment. However, Offred's fellow Handmaids secretly rallied around her, giving her scraps of food they'd saved from meals. In the present, 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.
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."