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In Gilead, women face division from each other in every aspect of their lives, and experience more separation within their narrow groups: caretakers, wives, handmaids, all groups wherein they may form cliques to further their isolation. Atwood emphasizes the importance of feminine solidarity within The Handmaid’s Tale by exploring the relationships they have. Friendships are a dangerous but necessary gamble, especially for Offred, who struggles to balance her submissive facade and her thoughts of hope, her past, and rebellion. Ultimately, the incredibly important relationships that Offred forms with other women, specifically Moira, Ofglen, and Serena Joy, define her growth and the way she perceives and interacts in the world.
Moira served as one of Offred’s most powerful influences in her early experiences as a Handmaid. Along with the other women, they dared to communicate in secret, and Moira’s resilience and resourcefulness inspired her. Instead of succumbing quickly to Gilead’s indoctrination, she helped Offred and others to quietly resist, becoming “[their] fantasy … In the light of Moira, the Aunts were less fearsome and more absurd” (Atwood 133) thereby undermining the power of their oppressors, at least in the Handmaids’ minds. Even her eventual disappearance had a meaning for them. If it was escape, she offered hope as the one that got away; and if death, she’d be a martyr. When Offred discovered her true fate, it was so devastating because her ‘idol’, in a way, had broken. Yet the lessons that her friend had instilled in her hadn’t dissipated – she still refused to be broken in the same way, and continued her dangerous, rebellious path.
Additionally, further down the line, Ofglen changed the course of Offred’s life as a Handmaid, most importantly by making her a part of Mayday and establishing the sense of community within her life. Mayday, along with Ofglen’s friendship, channeled Offred’s hopes for freedom into a reality. She also reintroduced the perilous concept of “we” instead of “I”, an opportunity for relief, safety, and trust – though hard-earned. However, their relationship was far more significant in Offred’s day-to-day life. Having no one else to truly freely speak with, they became each other’s confidantes and source of news, but most importantly, they trusted each other. At the very end, when Offred is about to be rescued – likely by Mayday – the importance of their friendship is made clear. The underground community that Ofglen looped her into saved her, at least for a time, all because she took the risk of accepting the olive branch from a potential threat.
Finally, Serena Joy had a rather unique effect on Offred’s life. Although their relationship was at best, awkward, Serena undoubtedly broke from her expected role to help Offred. Her kindness was by no means necessary, and yet she offered a path of survival to her Handmaid that really wouldn’t have benefitted her in the slightest. While this doesn’t justify Serena’s overall complacency with the system in place, or even make her out to be a good person, she was kind to Offred at her own risk. Higher-ups traditionally haven’t done anything to help Offred that wouldn’t also benefit themselves, including the Commander – still, Serena’s act is less a show of solidarity than the other two women, and more of pity. Regardless, her choices had a positive impact by opening up a new chapter in Offred’s life and forming a relationship with Nick. Kindness in their world always has inherent meaning.
Ultimately, the choice of who Handmaids decide to trust determines their quality and length of life. In Offred’s case, by eventually trusting some of the women around her, her story developed more hope and more retaliation against the system that threatened her. Had she not connected with anyone the way she did, she’d likely be facing more emotional turmoil and possibly a one-way ticket to the Colonies. Because no one supported the women, they had to support each other, even if it meant a possible death sentence.
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