The creation of Offred, the passive narrator of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, was intentional. The personality of the narrator in this novel is almost as important as the task bestowed upon her. Atwood chooses an average women, appreciative of past times, who lacks imagination and fervor, to contrast the typical feminist, represented in this novel by her mother and her best friend, Moira.
Atwood is writing for a specific audience, though through careful examination, it can be determined that the intended audience is actually the mass population. Although particular groups may find The Handmaid's Tale more enjoyable than others, the purpose of the novel is to enlighten the general population, as opposed to being a source of entertainment. A specific group that may favor this novel is the women activists of the 1960's and 1970's. This group, in which Offred's mother would be a member, is sensitive to the censorship that women once faced and would show interest to the "possible future" that could result.
Offred is symbolic of "every woman". She was conventional in prior times, married with one daughter, a husband and a career. She is ambivalent to many things that may seem horrific to the reader. On page 93, Offred is witness to Janine's confession of being raped. She doesn't comment on how the blame is placed on Janine. Is this because Offred has begun to accept the words of Aunt Lydia, or more likely, is she silent to create emphasis on the horrific deed? The answer is easily satisfied when the reader finishes the novel. Offred must realize the injustices if she feels compelled to reveal her story on the tapes. She must grasp the importance of conveying the atrocities that were executed during the Gileadian area.
Offred is representative of an average women also because she has experienced no great traumas. She isn't just ambivalent because of her tendencies but because she has been abruptly interjected into a new society. She is stunned and almost numb. She barely shows signs of life. She doesn't think there is any use to have a sense of hope. She thinks of the woman in "her" room before her. Her strong sense of life did nothing to help her earn her freedom. She received nothing from her quiet rebellions.
Offred is also obviously the perfect narrator because she is a handmaiden. In this new system, almost a caste system, the role of being a handmaiden is not only of great importance, but is also considerably better than other positions, such as an "unwoman", who cleans toxic waste in the Colonies. Because Offred is characterized as passive, and mostly compliant, she is not as much in danger as other characters. Moira, her friend from college and the previous life, is dynamic and full of life. She doesn't want to be held back, and her resistence causes her both trouble and distress. Janine, another character, is a "brown-noser" who uses flattery and praise to achieve a virtually impossible level of hierarchy with the Aunts among her peers. She has to sacrifice self-worth, though, and her admittance of fault in being raped is disgusting.
The tense that Atwood uses is relative to the narrator also. The shifts from present to past are frequent. When an author causes the narrator to use past tense, the reader can generally conclude that the narrator knows the end of the story. This builds a sense of suspense. Using present tense allows images in the story to be more solid and realistic, compared to past life. Not all shifts in tense are used for the same reason. When Offred is "speaking" of Luke, she can't decide if she is in love with him, or if she was in love with him.
Offred gradually reveals the story, which we are to eventually discover is on tape. Atwood elects to use leisurely disclosure in order to make the conclusion of the story more believable. The "Historical Notes" chapter causes the reader to re-examine the book, both mentally and manually. As the reader recalls the jumble of thoughts, the bouncing back and forth between the present and the past, and the narrator's decisions to withhold certain details, they understand the possibility, though unlikeliness, that this could actually happen.
Contrasts are important aspects in the narration