Characterisation in The Handmaid's Tale

The writer's focus

The characters who appear in literary works are usually chosen by the writer. Unless dealing with a real historical person (as, for example, Shakespeare does in his History plays), writers are free to decide exactly which characters they will include. Even when depicting real people, writers will often choose to present their own version of that character: many people disagree, for example, with Shakespeare's depiction of Richard III.

So Atwood's choice of her characters is quite deliberate, and her readers will do well to ask themselves precisely why she made her particular decisions. In The Handmaid's Tale, although she is depicting a complete political state, she chooses a limited number of people to represent that society, and it is intimate relationships which largely concern her. (See Themes and significant ideas > Human relationships.) There are references to ‘the Aunts', ‘the Commanders', ‘the Commanders' Wives' and ‘the Angels', but generally she focuses on individual representatives of these groups.

Also, although there are, we are led to understand, numerous Handmaids, Atwood focuses mainly on only a few of these young women, especially Offred, Moira, Ofglen, and Janine (Ofwarren).

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