Offred's mother

The status of women

Atwood's depiction of Gilead shows a state which, whilst purporting to respect and protect women, denies them equality and the right to an independent existence. This régime is an extreme reaction to the Women's Movement in operation in Canada and America from the 1960s. Although Atwood is herself a feminist, she is also a balanced and astute observer of society, and her depiction of Offred's mother enables her to record and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the feminist movement simultaneously.

An independent figure

Offred's mother is a feisty lady. Offred's lesbian friend Moira describes her (chapter 39) as having ‘pizzazz' and being ‘cute'. We gradually discover that Offred's mother was, by her own choice, a single parent. Her feminist friends were against relationships with men, but Offred's mother longed for a child, even though, by the time she had her daughter, she was 37 and aware of the dangers of older motherhood. She tells Offred (chapter 20) that she was ‘so lonely', but didn't want a man around. ‘Just do the job, then you can bugger off,' she had said to Offred's father. ‘I make a decent salary, I can afford daycare.'

A representative feminist

We first encounter Offred's mother on a Saturday when Offred is a little girl. Because her mother works during the week, weekends are precious to the child, and she is somewhat annoyed to discover that on this particular Saturday her mother is taking part in a feminist get-together - in fact the burning of pornographic magazines. But as she is handed one to throw on the flames, Offred looks intently at the picture and subsequently becomes more interested in what her mother is doing. Yet by the time Offred has grown up, she is taking her own liberty and equality for granted, as does her partner Luke, and Offred's mother points out to them (chapter 20) that:

‘You young people don't appreciate things.. you don't know what we had to go through, just to get where you are.'

Offred's feelings about this are mixed: she ‘admired' her mother in some ways, she tells us, but, ‘I didn't want to be ... the incarnation of her ideas.'

Mother and daughter

As the novel progresses, Offred grows more and more aware of what she values about her mother. She is at first relieved to hear from Moira (chapter 39) that in a film about the Colonies her mother, who had disappeared from her apartment, and had obviously been arrested, could clearly be seen, but Moira indicates that this is a terrible fate: ‘She might as well be (dead),' Moira says. ‘You should wish it for her.'

As a teenager, Offred had been embarrassed by her mother's participation in anti-porn and pro-abortion demonstrations.

‘I wanted from her a life more ceremonious, less subject to makeshift and decampment,'

she comments (chapter 28). But she knows that, as her mother tells her, she was ‘a wanted child'. Offred feels that, ‘despite everything, we didn't do badly by one another, we did as well as most,' and wishes that her mother ‘were here, so I could tell her I finally know this.'

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