The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood describes the utopian world in which the life of women revolved around the moral acts of giving birth to children and the scheduled monthly intercourse. It depicts the authoritarianism world made after the United States government was overthrown and turned into the Republic of Gilead. The goal of the takeover was to improve the situation, economy, and change the decreasing number in births. However, in the process it made these women, known as handmaids, were confined to life similar to prison. These handmaids lacked the love and care that is necessary in life. The quote “It’s lack of love we die from. There’s nobody here I can love, all the people I love are dead or elsewhere” shows that Offred is seeking some type of comfort in her life, even if that comfort is more than just a physical relationship. Love is an emotion that motives people to move ahead in their life. Offred’s recollections of her life before everything changed, particularly her husband, are the people that were filled with passion and happiness as she remembers her husband’s affection towards her. Often times, more emphasis is placed on the tangible human form in her memories, she frequently recalls times when she was lying with her husband while they were wearing little or no clothing. Offred’s love that she had for Luke, her deep motherly love for her daughter, her growing feelings for Nick and her mom and friend Moira all show the different types of love she expresse. Atwood uses Offred and the people in her life that she cares about to show how the nature of love develops in harsh circumstances.
When Offred was just twenty-five years old she had a daughter who was born a couple of years before Gilead got into power. In the book her daughter’s name is not mentioned, which is presumably to protect her identity, though she is often referred to throughout the story. When Offred’s daughter was an infant, her mother took her to a store, where a delusional woman who was implied to have lost her own baby attempted to abduct her, believing her to be her own child. Fortunately, Offred realized her daughter was missing and caught up to the woman, who was apprehended, and the little girl was returned to her mother unharmed. When her daughter was around five years old and Gilead toppled the United States government, Offred and her husband Luke attempted to cross the border to Canada. Before they could cross they were ambushed by soldiers and Luke told Offred to take their daughter and run, so she did. They were caught, and her daughter was taken by soldiers to be given to a “worthy” family (Chapter 7). Offred clings to the memories that she has of her daughter and she wishes that she is “a girl who still does exist, I hope, though not for me. Do I exist for her? Am I a picture somewhere, in the dark at the back of her mind?” (12.13) That day Offred lost two of the most important people in her life that she loved.
Luke is Offred’s husband and the father their daughter that they had together before the creation of the Republic of Gilead. It is implied that Luke was a couple years older than Offred. When they met he was married to another woman but was unhappy. He and Offred, his co-worker, began having an affair in hotel rooms at night. Eventually Luke left his wife and married Offred and they had their daughter. After Offred and their daughter escape, it is not known whether or not that he lives or not although the couple never see each other ever again. The love that Offred and Luke had for each other was prohibited in Gilead. The memories that Offred has of Luke contrast greatly with the regimented, loveless state of male-female relations in the new society of Gilead.
Like Luke, the character Nick is an unknown to us as readers. Even though he exists in Offred’s present life, instead of just being a memory like Luke, he is still portrayed as a very suspicious character, Offred refers to him as “too casual, he’s not servile enough. It may be stupidity, but I don’t think so. Smells fishy, they used to say; or, I smell a rat” (4.6) Nick is the Guardian assigned to the house of the Commander, there he works as a gardener and a chauffeur. Offred is right away attracted to Nick and because she is in need for companionship she soon starts to have an affair with him. We later learn that Nick isn’t just a Guardian, he may also work for either the secret police, or as a member of the Eyes, or as a member of the resistance. We know this because at the end of the novel, Nick is the one who puts together Offred’s escape from the Commander’s house.
Throughout this novel Offred bases how she measures her feelings off of sex. She is wanted by the Commander when it is convenience and necessary for him. She says “I ought to feel hatred for this man. I know I ought to feel it, but it isn’t what I do feel. What I feel is more complicated that. I don’t know what to call it. It isn’t love.” (76) However, when it comes to Nick we see that his touch brings on such a different reaction. In chapter 17 when Nick moives closer to Offred in a room that is pitch black dark she tells us, the audience, that “It’s so good to be touched by someone”.
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