The Handmaid's Tale is set in the Republic of Gilead, a patriarchal near-future society. While the novel presents women as "passive victims", it also shows how women overcome this role. Female characters take part in acts of resistance against the violence of the regime. For example, Moira makes many escape attempts. Ofglen is a member of an underground resistance network named Mayday. Atwood also explores how women can be the perpetrators of violence as well as victims. Female characters such as the "Aunts" take part in the oppression of other women. When Janine talks about her experience of rape, Aunt Helen says that it was her fault. The handmaids follow Aunt Helen's instructions to shame Janine and "Teach her a lesson."
The novel's narration gives readers insight into Offred's criticisms of Gilead. While walking to a shop, Offred thinks to herself: "A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze." This comment sums up Atwood's complex presentation of female characters. Atwood uses the metaphor of a "maze" to show how difficult it is for women to escape the role of passive victims. The handmaids choose what direction to walk, but cannot pick their destinations. Even women in positions of power must be passive in their relationships with men. Attempts at resistance or rebellion are only successful for a few. But, although it is difficult for women to escape their roles, it is not impossible. Offred refuses to let the identity of victim define her. Atwood's first-person narration gives readers insight into Offred's criticisms of the totalitarian regime. These thoughts are themselves a form of active resistance.
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