Handmaids in the film version of The Handmaid's Tale.

Wives in The Handmaid's Tale wear blue dresses--but don't read books!
Aunts wear long, modest, brown dresses.

Marthas wear dull green robes.

Jezebels wear lingerie and fetish costumes from before the overthrow of Congress.

Unwomen wear gray robes.


Plot Summary
The Handmaid's Tale is an internal monologue told by a woman known only as Offred. The majority of the action

takes place in Boston in the near future--fashion references suggest that it is set in the early 1990s. The

United States of America has been taken over by Christian extremists and renamed the Republic of Gilead. Since

the world has been extremely polluted by nuclear waste, most men and women are sterile or infertile--however,

only women are blamed for the inability to produce children. Many children who are born are mutants, called

Unbabies. Since Offred can conceive, she serves as a handmaid--a woman who produces children for high-

ranking Commanders with infertile wives.
Her own husband and daughter have been separated from her.

Despite the strict rules of Gilead's government, all of the main characters in the novel discreetly rebel--Offred's

Commander falls in love with her and meets her alone in his study, allowing her to play Scrabble and read

magazines. When the Commander's wife, Serena Joy, realizes that her husband is sterile, she arranges a

relationship between Offred and the household servant, Nick, so Offred can conceive illegally. Ofglen, Offred's

shopping partner, introduces her to the underground Mayday resistance network and the Underground

Femaleroad, which smuggles the oppressed women of Gilead to Canada.

After the Commander smuggles Offred out of the house and into a gentleman's club, Serena Joy discovers Offred's

treachery. When a van arrives to take Offred away--presumably to be executed--Nick enters the room and tells

Offred that Mayday is here to save her. Offred complies with the men in the van and is taken away.

While the novel ends ambiguously, the epilogue "Historical Notes on The Handmaid's Tale", an imaginary lecture

given to a Gileadean Studies course at a Canadian University in the year 2195, informs the reader that Offred's

story was found recorded onto a collection of cassette tapes in a garage in Bangor, Maine. Since this technology

would have been unavailable to Offred as a handmaid in Gilead, it is strongly suggested that she succeeds in her

escape. The concept of a box of out-of-order cassettes also accounts for the novel's format, which is out of

chronological order and comprised largely of flashbacks.

Main Characters

Offred-Offred is the protagonist and narrator of The Handmaid's Tale. One of the few fertile women remaining in Gilead, she is a thirty-seven year old handmaid beginning her third household rotation, therefore she has been performing a handmaid's duties--and failing--for over four years. Although we never know Offred's real name, she remains completely preoccupied with her past life, especially her lost daughter and husband, Luke.
Serena Joy-Serena Joy is the Commander's wife. A former televangelist, Serena Joy is now bitter--her career has been taken away by the government and her husband can only have sexual relations with Offred. However, Serena Joy helps Offred and herself by arranging a romantic and sexual relationship between Offred and Nick.
The Commander (Fred)-Offred's job is to provide children for the Commander. It is implied that the Commander is rich, since he can provide Offred and Serena Joy with black-market items like cigarettes, hand lotion and magazines. Claiming that Serena Joy does not understand him, he takes a forbidden, romantic interest in Offred, inviting her to his study to engage in illegal activities like playing Scrabble and reading women's magazines.
Ofglen-Ofglen is a handmaid and Offred's shopping partner. Through the first half of the novel, she remains a minor character and appears a pious believer in the Republic's government; however, halfway through the novel she discreetly asks Offred if she believes that God listens to the automatic prayer machines which profit Soul Scrolls, one of Gilead's most prosperous business franchises. When Offred answers, "No," Ofglen introduces her to the Mayday Resistance against Gilead's government. When she is discovered by the Eyes, Ofglen hangs herself before she can be executed.
Nick-Nick is a Guardian, a low-ranking manservant who works for Offred's Commander. Throughout the first part of the novel, Offred and Nick carry on a subtle flirtation which becomes a full relationship once Serena Joy becomes urgent for a child and forces them together. It is implied that Nick is a member of the Mayday resistance.
Moira-Moira, a headstrong liberal and lesbian, was Offred's best friend in college. Moira escapes her handmaid's training at the Red Center by capturing an Aunt and stealing her clothing. After spending time with a Quaker family on the Underground Femaleroad, Moira is intercepted by the government and makes the decision to become a prostitute or Jezebel, since Jezebels are allowed drugs, alcohol and "gender treachery". It is unclear how Moira's life ends, but it is implied that she is sent to the colonies.
Luke-Luke was Offred's husband before the Believers overthrew the American government. Both he and Offred's daughter were lost after the family's escape through to Canada was intercepted by Gilead's government. Though all the reader knows of Luke is gleaned through flashbacks, he remains a prominent driving force in Offred's life--Offred implies several times that she continues living simply because there is a chance that Luke is alive and will contact her. While it is known that their child survived the interception, neither the reader nor Offred ever learn of Luke's present condition.

1. Commanders-Commanders are the highest-ranking officials in Gilead. Though it is implied that most of them are elderly and sterile, they are the only men entitled to handmaids.
2. Angels-Angels are revered soldiers. They are responsible for fighting wars against outlaws, particularly Quakers, Catholics and Jews. Most Angels are very eligible for promotion to Commander status and obtaining handmaids.
3. Eyes-Eyes are responsible for detecting and swiftly eliminating any subversive activity within the Republic of Gilead. They also have ties to foreign policy.
4. Guardians-Guardians are multi-purpose, low-ranking men. Most of them are still in their early-to-mid-teens. Many of the younger Guardians keep peace in the streets, carrying machine guns and shooting suspicious individuals, but some Guardians, like Nick, serve more menial purposes such as washing cars for Commanders.
1. Aunts-Aunts are older, postmenopausal or infertile women responsible for training handmaids at the Rachel and Leah Center (called the Red Center). Being an Aunt is the highest authoritative rank a woman can achieve in Gilead. Aunts wear brown dresses.

2. Wives-Wives are high-society, infertile women. Though they are forbidden from actual sexual relations with their husbands, they must complete all sexual and childbearing rituals beside the handmaids--they must lie underneath them while they have sex and sit in the birthing chair while the handmaid gives birth. Wives receive all credit for what a handmaid achieves. They wear blue.
3. Handmaids-Handmaids are the few remaining fertile women in Gilead. They are responsible for bearing children to Commanders. If they do not conceive after six years, they are declared Unwomen and sent to the Colonies. Although they engage in sexual relations with the Commanders, they are forbidden from being emotionally connected to the rest of the household. While handmaids are scorned by Wives, they are highly valued since their fertility is considered a "national resource". Handmaids wear red dresses with white wings on their heads which blind their peripheral vision.
4. Daughters-Daughters are young, high-society girls raised in Gilead. They are married to Angels, Guardians and Commanders in large, group weddings called Prayvaganzas. Until they are married, daughters wear white with braided hair.
5. Marthas-Marthas are infertile women who serve as servants in the households of Commanders. They wear green.
5. Econowives-Econowives are the fertile wives of impoverished, low-ranking men. Due to their economic status, they must complete the tasks of Marthas, handmaids and wives. Their garments are striped with red, green and blue.
6. Unwomen and Jezebels-Jezebels are prostitutes who work at Jezebel's, a government-sanctioned gentleman's club used as a meeting place for foreign ambassadors and Commanders. Offred's lesbian friend from college, Moira, is a Jezebel. Unwomen are outlaws, fertile women who refuse to become handmaids, and Jezebels who can no longer carry on their sexual duties. They are sent to the Colonies, work camps where they must work with nuclear waste. Offred's mother, a 1960s feminist activist, becomes an Unwoman after the Gileadean believers overthrow Congress.