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The main protagonist of the book.
- Ambiguous Ending: She was taken in a black van at the end of her narrative and nobody knows what happened to her. It's speculated that she made it to Canada, and the 1990 film version shows her pregnant and living alone in a trailer in the middle of nowhere.
- Anti-Hero: After her husband was possibly killed and her daughter taken away, Offred becomes apathetic.
- Baby Factory: What she is reduced to in her role as the Handmaid.
- Dub Name Change: Called "Defred" in France and Spain, "Difred" in Italy and "Desfred" in Germany.
- Happily Married: To her husband Luke before Gilead took over and she was separated from him.
- No Name Given: Though it's hinted to be June, Offred isn't given any official name. She also isn't the first to bear that title.
- Ray of Hope Ending: If nothing else is certain about her, she somehow managed to get her tale out in the world, exposing the world at large to the horrors her, and women like her, had to suffer under the Gilead regime.
- Unreliable Narrator: Suggested to be one near the end of the book when The Handmaid's Tale tapes were being examined for historical accuracy. Justified, though, as she's been kidnapped, beaten, electrocuted, drugged, and raped repeatedly, and is more than likely suffering from PTSD. Most people's instincts wouldn't be terribly sharp after all that.
The head of the household for whom Offred serves as their breeding slave. He is suggested to be one of the two Freds of Offred's narrative, who may be responsible for "the sons of Jacob" takeover of America.
- Evil Is Sterile: Literally. The reason for shooting Congress, shredding the Constitution, and taking women into sexual slavery.
- Meaningful Name: "Frederick" is German for "peaceful ruler."
- Pet the Dog: His treatment of Offred during the times he isn't performing the Ceremony with her.
- Sexless Marriage: Suggested between himself and his wife Serena due to their inability to have a child. It's also suggested that the Commander may be sterile, though Gileadean doctrine forbids men to be mentioned as sterile and instead puts the blame on the woman.
A former televangelist, she becomes the wife of the Commander due to the new laws of Gilead preventing women from having self-sustaining employable work.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: She wanted a society where women's place was in the home. Now that's been achieved, she's going crazy for lack of anything to do; she's not allowed to read or write and there's nothing to occupy her time besides desperately hoping and preparing for a baby that may never come.
- Female Misogynist: Given her treatment of Offred and her religious view of women in general.
- Flower Motif: She wears lily of the valley perfume, a flower associated with the Virgin Mary... and highly poisonous.
- Ironic Name: Given how she handles her forced retirement as the wife of the Commander. In the academic analysis section in the book's prologue, it's noted this could be a Take That! toward figures such as Tammy Faye Bakker and Phyllis Schlafly.
- Sexless Marriage: Suggested between herself and her husband due to their inability to have a child.
- Stay in the Kitchen: What she believes women were meant to do, besides also being stay-at-home mothers.
A fellow Handmaid whom Offred associates with. She's also the second of three women to carry this title.
A driver who works for The Commander and Serena Joy.
- Badass Driver: In addition to driving for the Commander, Nick is also a spy. It is left ambiguous whether he is an Eye or part of Mayday
- Cool Car: Nick lovingly polishes the Behemoth, while Offred notes that "the way men caress good cars" hasn't changed.
- Friends with Benefits: In the novel, both Offred and Nick promise each other "no strings," but it doesn't work out like that.
A fellow Handmaid whom Offred associates with.
A lesbian and friend of Offred that she was neighbors with prior to Gilead.
- Agony of the Feet: One of Moira's punishments for running away is to have her hands and feet whipped into pulp. In the series this fate befalls Offred for helping her escape.
- Broken Pedestal: What she becomes when Offred meets her at Jezebel's.
- Bury Your Gays: While Offred is hopeful she escapes Jezebel's, it's more likely Moira doesn't make it, although her story is left open-ended.
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Moira prefers her life at Jezebel's because alcohol is available and lesbian sex is rather encouraged, whereas in the rest of Gilead, it's a hanging offense.
- Sex Slave: Her role in Jezebel's.
- Straw Feminist: In both the book and the series, Moira seems to think men are the problem.
- Youthful Freckles: While Moira is an adult, her freckles denote her place as a Plucky Girl.
Rita and Cora
The Marthas who work as house servants in the Commander's home.
The brown-garbed head of the Red Centre. There are several Aunts who train the Handmaids, but Aunt Lydia is one of the worst.
The husband of Offred.
- Race Lift: Is African-American in the series.
Professor James Darcy Pieixoto
The director of the 20th and 21st Century Archives at Cambridge University, England, who is part of the symposium of Gileadean Studies.