Offred's double

The Handmaids from http://www.thegreatbookslist.com/atwood.htmlOfglen is Offred's shopping partner. As neither is trusted to go out alone, each has to accompany the other. Offred describes her first encounter with Ofglen (chapter 4) as meeting ‘a shape like mine, a nondescript woman in red carrying a basket'. So alike are they in outward form that Offred says she is ‘doubled' as she walks the street (chapter 5). To begin with, they address each other in the stock phrases permitted to the Handmaids, but by chapter 8 Ofglen becomes more adventurous, introducing the words ‘May Day' which, as we later discover, is the name of an underground resistance movement.

Taking risks

During the course of the novel Ofglen becomes more communicative, and by chapter 27 Offred realises that Ofglen has ‘given up some of her passivity lately'. As they pass the window of ‘Soul Scrolls', where machines churn out printed prayers, Ofglen, using the reflection in the glass, looks straight into Offred's eyes; Offred senses that ‘There is risk, suddenly, in the air between us, where there was none before.' Ofglen then asks a dangerous question - a treasonable question, Offred is aware: ‘Do you think God listens... to these machines?' Offred has at this point to take a risk, whether to trust Ofglen or not; she takes a leap of faith and replies, ‘No.' Ofglen then reveals that she is part of an underground movement: ‘You didn't think I was the only one,' she comments.

The dangers of resistance

It is at the end of this walk that they see a black van swoop and two Eyes leap out to arrest a man, dragging him off the street. Although there is relief - ‘It wasn't me' - the incident shows Offred how vulnerable she is. She could be spied on or betrayed at any time. This is reinforced soon afterwards as she and Ofglen walk back from the Prayvaganza, when Ofglen whispers to Offred that she is aware of Offred's visits to the Commander's office: ‘We know you're seeing him alone.' She asks Offred to ‘find out and tell us... anything you can.'

Ofglen's commitment to the resistance movement is shown at the Particicution (chapter 43); when one of the May Day group is to be torn apart by the crowd, she kicks him in the head to ensure he loses consciousness. However, her action is both noticed and correctly interpreted by those in authority. That same afternoon, the Ofglen who appears on the shopping trip is not the one Offred has walked with - though in another sense she is; ‘I am Ofglen,' says the new one. Offred realises that she never did know the real name of the Ofglen who had disappeared.

Ofglen's courage

As Offred tries to sound out the new Ofglen, by mentioning the word May Day in apparently casual conversation, she is warned off, and told that she ought to ‘clear your mind of such... echoes.' ‘She isn't one of us. But she knows,' Offred realises. As the new Ofglen leaves her at the end of their shopping expedition, she leans forward and tells Offred that the previous Ofglen ‘hanged herself' when ‘she saw the van coming for her.' Offred is aware of the sacrifice involved. Ofglen has killed herself before she could betray others under torture: 

‘I feel thankful to her. She has died that I may live. I will mourn later.'

Later Offred realises that the new Ofglen may be lying, to instil a false sense of security in her. Offred feels she will do anything to avoid torture; she vows to succumb completely to the régime: ‘I am abject.' Whether the black van that then comes for her (chapter 46) is really the rescue arranged by the May Day group, as Nick says, or whether Ofglen has been arrested and has compromised Offred, we never know. All we do know is that there does seem to be a resistance group, and that Ofglen does seem to be part of it. Unless she too was lying....

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