Moira's unconventionality

Moira is a college friend of Offred's, and is vibrant, rebellious and deliberately shocking. She is the first person Offred thinks of when she wants to escape, in her mind (chapter 7):

‘Where should I go? Somewhere good. Moira ...'

Everything about Moira seems to suggest a non-conformist. She sits with:

‘ankle on knee, in her purple overalls, one dangly earring, the gold fingernail she wore to be eccentric'.

We learn later, when Offred thinks about taking apart a mechanical fan (chapter 28), that:

‘if I were Moira, I'd know how to take it apart... without a screwdriver.'

In other words, Moira has the sort of knowledge and ability which many women traditionally do not have.

Moira is decidedly not traditional; she is very aware of the feminist movement, and has written a paper on date rape. Offred tells us that Moira decided (chapter 28) to ‘prefer women' and went to work for a women's collective.

Subversive humour

Moira is witty and irreverent, and her laughter resounds through much of Elizabeth McGoven playing Moira in the 1990 film, from novel. ‘She always made me laugh,' Offred tells us in chapter 10, and later (chapter 31) she says, ‘Moira laughed; she could always do that.' Moira's laughter becomes a potent weapon against oppression, one that Offred learns to value. When Offred is taken aback by Moira's obscene suggestions about Aunt Lydia and Janine (chapter 34), Moira tells her that ‘talking like that' does you good. And Offred agrees that:

‘she's right, I know that now... there is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power.'

Heroic resistance

In her refusal to conform, Moira becomes something of a hero for Offred at the Red Centre. Moira's first escape, taken away by ambulance through feigned sickness, shows her resourcefulness and strength of purpose - even though she is brought back and savagely punished. Even after this, it is Moira who saves Janine by slapping her when she starts to ‘slip over the edge' (chapter 33), warning Janine what will happen to her if she is deemed useless.

When Moira attacks Aunt Elizabeth and takes her uniform to escape, it seems that she has completely outwitted the system, and Offred holds onto this idea, saying (at the end of chapter 22):

‘Moira was our fantasy ... In the light of Moira, the Aunts were less fearsome and more absurd ... Moira didn't reappear. She hasn't yet.'

Even the unknown, previous Offred who scratched ‘nolite te bastardes carborundorum' on the floor of the cupboard has, for Offred, ‘the face of Moira' (chapter 15).

Moira's defeat

It is a desperate blow to Offred when she finds Moira at Jezebel's and hears of her recapture, torture and current life as a sex-worker. It is not merely that Moira is there at Jezebel's - after all, she had no real choice. More tragically, Offred feels that Moira has lost what Offred so valued in her:

‘gallantry ... swashbuckling, heroism, single-handed combat'.

Offred senses that what she now hears in Moira's voice is ‘indifference, a lack of volition'. Gilead has succeeded in taking away from Moira something that ‘used to be so central to her', and this frightens Offred: ‘I don't want her to be like me,' someone who would ‘give in, go along.'

Offred does not know what finally happens to Moira, any more than we know what happens to Offred. But Offred hopes that Moira may do something rebellious before she dies:

‘I'd like her to end with something daring and spectacular, some outrage, something that would befit her.'

But, as Offred sadly says, ‘as far as I know that didn't happen.'

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