Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale: A Study of Rebellion

Rebels defy the rules of society, risking everything to
retain their humanity. If the world Atwood depicts is
chilling, if 'God is losing,' the only hope for optimism is
a vision that includes the inevitability of human struggle
against the prevailing order.
-Joyce Johnson-

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale analyzes human nature by presenting an internal conflict in Offred: acceptance of current social trends (victim mentality) -vs- resistance for the sake of individual welfare and liberties (humanity). This conflict serves as a warning to society, about the dangers of the general acceptance of social evils and boldly illustrates the internal struggle that rebels face in choosing to rebel.

Offred is a Handmaid in the republic of Gilead and while she seems unhappy about this, she is confused about her identity and even starts to accept the role that has been imposed upon her. It seems strange that one might accept such radical changes so easily. Offred has been manipulated into believing that this sinister system was designed for her own good. Peter S. Prescott says: Offred at first accepts assurance that the new order is for her protection. (151)She must lie on her back once a month and hope that commander makes her pregnant because her sole purpose is to act as a vessel. She even starts to measure her self-worth by the viability of her ovaries and this negatively affects her self-image. This is how Offred characterizes the deporing act : The commander is *censored*ing. What he is *censored*ing is the lower part of my body. I don't say making love because that's not what he is doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate because it would imply two people,when there is only one. Nor does rape cover it. Nothing was going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice, but there was some and this is what I chose. (Atwood,121) This statement is very dangerous. It shows how Offred has convinced herself that this deploring act (rape) is not so bad. It also shows how she is beginning to embrace the system and justify the violations that are being commited against her. By calling it a choice she has shifted the blame from her oppressors to herself and labeled the blatant crime as a mere ritual. Offred shows signs of a developing victim mentality where she accepts defeat and associates the regime's will with her own. The danger lies in her complacency because if she accepts this role as being her choice she eliminates any need to rebel. This mentality provides her with a false sense of security which will impede her ability to fight back.

We can try to argue tht Offred's unwillingness to resist was due to fear, but there's more to it than that. In the novel she is afraid that spies (eyes) are everywhere and that trust is a lost luxury. Maybe she was afraid to fight by herself. This seems understandable, but Offred's reluctance to fight back is more complicated than just fear. By coming to accept her role in the new society she clouds her perception of freedom and her need to rebel at all. Ehrenreich argues: Offred cries alot and lives in fear of finding her erstwhile husand hanging from a hook on the wall, but when she is finally contacted by the resistance she is curiously uninterested. (155) Ehrenreich also argues that Offred's unwillingness to embrace the resistance is due to her changed mentality; the system has been embedded in her. She states: Offred has sunk too far into the incestuous little house she serves. (155) So we can't say she's stuck in this alone others have revealed that they too want to fight. It's her altered character and acceptance of social evils that makes her weak. Gayle Greene calls her a Good German rather than a freedom fighter. Unlike Moira she doesn't have the rebel simmering in her from the beginning. Offred doesn't have Moira's strenghth, but she needs to believe in it.(159) Offred even says herself ,I don't want her to be like me. Give in, go along, save her skin...I want gallantry from her, swashbuckling heroism. Something I lack. (Atwood,327) At least Offred identifies with rebels, but she