How does Margaret Atwood present Moira's character in 'The Handmaid's Tale?'

As a feminist and lesbian, Moira is immediately presented as an unconventional, rebellious character as such identifications are in fact illegal in the misogynistic and patriarchal society of Gilead. As a result, Atwood presents Moira as the physical embodiment of rebellion and freedom within the novel. Atwood uses the simile “[she] is like an elevator with open sides” to describe Moira, implying that there is a dangerous side to her character. This creates an aura of risk to Moira’s character, reflecting her reckless attempt to escape the Red Centre because she was “going bats.” Furthermore, elevators give us freedom of movement so it can be argued that Moira is the initiator for freedom in the novel. This presents her as a free-spirit because regardless of the consequences she will do what it takes to make her happy, highlighting her rebellious side. Atwood also describes Moira “sitting on the edge of [Offred’s] bed, legs crossed, ankle on knee” creating a masculine image of her. This is further emphasised when Atwood describes her “purple overalls,” as overalls are typically associated with masculine professions, such as a plumber or an electrician. The masculine image of Moira presents her as a free woman because it highlights that she has chosen to wear these clothes and act in a masculine way, again connoting that Moira does things to make her happy regardless of the consequences in the oppressive society of Gilead. As Atwood describes her, Moira is a “loose woman” and within the novel she signifies freedom because of this. The description is one of many within the novel that creates a contrast between how women were treated before Gilead, and how they are treated now in Gilead. This gives the reader the opportunity to realise how much women have had taken away from them, resulting in the reader feeling sympathetic for females within the novel. Atwood also presents Moira as role model within the text, which is highlighted when Offred describes Moira as “[their] fantasy.” This implies that Moira’s actions aren’t a reality for Offred and the other Handmaids which highlights her unorthodox nature, relating back to her “purple overalls” as purple signifies eccentricity and individuality. Atwood uses the metaphor “she was the lava beneath the crust of daily life” to describe Moira, implying that the rising rebellious movement in Gilead is just beneath the surface, ready to “erupt.” The metaphor suggests that the crust can easily be broken, because the lava is just “beneath the crust” thus creating a sense of fragility to the Gilead society. Atwood presents Moira to have the ability to “break the crust”, creating an image of an exploding volcano which suggests that Moira has the potential to be a powerful character, and has the ability to start a movement that would break the structure of Gilead. Furthermore, Offred admits that “[she] feels safe that Moira is here” suggesting that Moira provides a sense of comfort and reassurance for Offred. The fact that Atwood switches to present tense with the use of “here” is significant also, as it implies that Offred’s memory of Moira is the only thing keeping her sane while she is a Handmaid. Due to this, Moira’s character becomes that of a role model within the novel as Offred is admiring her in order to remain calm to survive Gilead’s strict laws and principles that she ought to abide by. Ultimately, Atwood presents Moira as a free spirit that defies convention so as a result she uses her character to allow the reader to understand and acknowledge that there is always potential for change if you desire it. As a result I feel that through Moira’s character, Atwood portrays the message that we should not suffer in silence and feel the need to submit to authority in dictatorial circumstances. Therefore, Atwood uses Moira’s character to give the novel a sense of hope that Gilead will one day change for the better and that women will no longer be subject to antiquated biblical views.

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