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In many novels, certain characters are useful for illustrating numerous themes and motifs, conveying the message that the author wishes to communicate. In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, the characters are what permit the reader to understand the idea or theme of individuality versus society. Specifically, Moira, a rebellious woman, is the most essential character in the novel because she clearly represents the theme of individuality. She is a symbol of hope to her long time friend Offred, because she represents the pre-Gilead society.
Moira is also used to contrast how a society can pressure individuals into mediocrity because she does not surrender to the norms of the Gilead society. Lastly, the memories of Moira produce a significant image of Offred’s individuality. In The Handmaids Tale, the Gilead society has decided to eliminate numerous traditions, clothing, human rights and literature in order to have full control over its ladies. However, the one thing that Gilead cannot possibly control is the power of thought and memories of the past.
Offred uses her memories of her pas life to “[… ] save [her sanity] so [she] will have enough when the [regime is destroyed]” (Atwood 135). She uses much of her free time to think of many things in her past since it comforts her. Among these things, she spends a great deal of time thinking of Moira because “it makes [her] feel safer that Moira is [there]” with her (Atwood 88). In the past, Offred would call Moira regularly for comfort in times of hardship, such as the loss of her job at the library.
The thought of Moira is not only comforting, but she is also a symbol of hope for Offred. Moira symbolises hope because she is an individual and she manages to escape the red center, as well as the cruelty of the Gilead society. Offred discovers that Moira is working at Jezebels, a brothel outside of Gilead. Although the modern day society would frown upon such relations, Offred admires Moira’s freedom to do anything she likes. This instils confidence in Offred that one day she might also experience the freedom she once had.
Moira’s character is essential to illustrate the development of other characters as well as the effect Gilead has on its women, since she is a foil to numerous handmaids. Firstly, she is a foil to Janine. Both of these ladies were sent to the red center to become future handmaids in the society of Gilead. Janine gave into the regime whereas Moira rebelled completely. Janine would exaggerate things in order to get attention from the aunts and seem to be a true believe although she would lie at testifying then admit it was her fault to have been raped in her previous life.
While being praised by the aunts, they would tell Janine that she is an example of a good handmaid. In reality though, she lies about the whole story and therefore is not the girl the aunts think she is. Moira, on the other hand, decides to leave the red center by trapping an aunt and stealing her clothes. She impersonates this aunt until she is safe and protected by numerous people. This illustrates that Moira would do anything to escape this regime where as Janine would do anything to be a part of it. Another foil is the one of Moira and OfGlen.
They are both rebellious women in the society, but in different ways. Moira takes an upfront approach where as OfGlen is part of a more secretive rebellion. In the end, OfGlen’s approach is not as effective since the eyes simply need to capture one person and the rest of their system falls. An example of this is when the man is killed by the handmaids after the salvaging. This caused OfGlen to hang herself and it is also a possible cause of OfFred’s arrest since she uses the code word with the new OfGlen.
Both of these foils illustrate the theme of individuality versus society since Janine is a clear example of society where as Moira and OfGlen represent the individuality with their courage to rebel. Throughout the novel, Offred informs the reader of her memories with Moira. These memories with Moira illustrate the character development of Offred. When the story begins, Offred remembers simple memories of Moira such as “[… ] the golden nail polish [Moira] wore to be eccentric, a cigarette between her stubby yellow-ended fingers” (Atwood 47).
These are the simple thoughts and memories of a teenager who is proud of their individuality, which is why Moira is wearing such a unique color on her fingernails. As the novel goes on, Offred slowly starts to remember and notice things from her past she had not noticed before, similarly to a grown woman noticing the simple things in life such as the beauty of having a child. One of the things Offred notices is that in her previous life, she ignored all the pleasant things the world has to offer because before they used to believe that “[…
] whatever is going on [is] usual” (Atwood 70). By the end of the novel, Offred’s thoughts are about the death of her individuality and how she is willing to give up everything to live. At the beginning of the novel, her thoughts represent the careless individualism of a teenager, and further on they represent the freedom of a grown woman. Atwood uses Moira and the memories to illustrate the chain of Offreds thoughts since it contrasts both characters. Moira has never doubted her individuality and she risks her life to fight for her personal freedom.
In Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaids Tale, the theme of individuality versus society is very important and it is clearly illustrated through the character of Moira. Moira is a symbol of hope for Offred since she is not afraid to rebel against the regime. She is also used to illustrate the individuality and conformity of the numerous handmaids in the story. She also represents the individuality of Offred through the handmaid’s memories of the past. Margaret Atwood demonstrates this important theme to voice her opinion that, throughout history, an individual will always have the opportunity to choose their destiny.
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