OFFRED AND MOIRA
In the novel the character Moira represents the more rebellious nature of humanity. She is a strong individual, who refuses to accept her fate as a handmaid. Unlike the other handmaids in training including Offred, who behave in a more passive manner, Moira is a very active and dynamic figure and the only one in the novel who stands up directly to the authority. She doesn’t let anyone get her down. This shows in her several escape attempts from the Red Centre, one of which was successful. Even the way Moira escapes shows us her rebellious nature. She takes off her own clothes, the ones she was forced to wear, and then and wears those of an Aunt. This symbolises her rejection of Gilead’s attempt to remove her individuality.
The fact that she never became an Of-somebody makes her a hero figure, at least in the eyes of Offred. She gives not only of Offred, but the other women hope: “We hugged her to us, she was with us in secret, a giggle; she was lava beneath the crust of daily life.”(pg.139 l.59-60) Whenever the protagonist thinks about an act of rebellion, she thinks about Moira, for example, “if I were Moira, I’d know how to take [the electric fan] apart, reduce it to its cutting edges. […] I’m not Moira.” (pg.175 l.46). This quote along with her escape shows that Moira is a woman who is not only resourceful but also knows her way around technical jobs, activities which are considered manly, the opposite of what is Gilead wants. Furthermore Moira is a lesbian, which in itself is like a crime in this new world, where only a relationship between a man and a woman is valued.
The relationship between Moira and Offred is a very rare one. Although the government claims to promote solidarity between women by encouraging them for example to visit each other when sick and attending each other’s Birth Days, they are arousing suspicion and jealousy between each other. If all women were oppressed and alike, then they would rise up together against the government. However, giving some more rights and privileges drives them apart. Offred is surrounded by so many women, however neither can she trust or even befriend them nor they her, with Ofglenn being a slight exception. A clear example is Serena, who finds pleasure in making others suffer because she is unhappy herself.
Offred, herself, is an intelligent and kind woman. Her main priority is her family: Luke and their daughter, whom she thinks about throughout the novel. Because she is as mentioned before a rather passive character, she is more observant and makes many links, especially the present with the past,
Even though Offred is internally against Gilead, she is, unlike Moira, not a fighter: even in her life prior Gilead, she had always felt uncomfortable with her mother’s activism in feminist movements. After one attempt at escaping she submits herself to the regime outwardly. Even her name, Offred, shows that she is owned by the Commander Fred and therefore demonstrates that she has succumbed to Gilead.
OFFRED AND THE COMMANDER
According to Wikipedia a mistress is usually a “long-term female lover and companion who is not married to her partner, especially when her partner is married”. A mistress is in general seen as someone who will sexually please her partner in exchange of a comfortable lifestyle. This relationship is customarily kept a secret.
For me, a mistress is a woman who gives her partner something he longs for that he can’t or won’t get from his official partner. For the most part, it is sex. However, in the case of Offred and the Commander, they desire something else: the need for companionship. “[Their relationship,] is forbidden. […] is dangerous. […] is indecent. […] is desirable.”(pg.144 l.31-33) Like in the biblical story of Adam and Eve, we crave for the things that we cannot or should not get.
After these meetings with the Commander, Offred starts seeing him in a new light. The Commander isn’t pure evil, like how the readers and even Offred expected him to be. Instead he seems to also be a prisoner of Gilead and wants human contact just as much as Offred. This may explain his disappointment at the coldness of her kiss (pg.146). However, he doesn’t seem to understand at what extent the women around him, especially Offred, suffer. He laughs when Offred tells him that Handmaids put butter on their hands: that they are denied every little luxury. He doesn’t understand that the Handmaids have no privacy whatsoever: that their rooms are searched.
Offred’s memory of the documentary about the Nazi guard and his mistress creates an obvious parallel to her situation with the Commander. The Commander is a human being, and like all human beings, even the Nazis, he is not pure evil. “He was not a monster, to her,” (pg.151 l.61) Offred says as she thinks of the concentration camp guard and his mistress. “Probably he had some endearing trait […]. How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all.”(pg.151 l.61-65) The Commander is human, even endearing, but he is still part of this unmoral regime.
During these meetings, the Commander gives Offred illegal magazines to read while he watches her. In these magazines Offred sees the way women were in the past: “bold, striding, confident. […] it was princes I thought of, not […] maidens. No quailing, no clinging there […]. Pirates, these women.” (pg.161 l.62-66) These women were strong and independent. They didn’t have to rely on anyone. They could do anything and be anyone, whether it be a pirate or a prince. But that in no way means that they were masculine. “Those candid eyes [were] shadowed with make-up, yes, but like the eyes of cats, fixed for the pounce.” (pg.161 l.63-64) Even though they wear wearing make-up didn’t mean that they were only reduced to their femininity.
The act of reading the magazines and being watched by the Commander was a very intimate one for Offred. She knew that she “was doing something [she] shouldn’t have been doing.” (pg.161 l.69) Letting someone see you when you are doing something wrong and giving them a certain power over you leaves you very exposed and vulnerable. I believe that this is what is happening here. The Commander knows that her reading is wrong and he knows what would happen to her if anyone else found out about it. The risks of getting caught are higher than ever before and that is what makes this game that they are playing even more interesting.