Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, explores the consequences of Gilead, a patriarchal theocracy governing a dystopian America. It follows the protagonist, a handmaid named Offred, as she struggles to endure her role within the new order as a breeder for high-ranking government officials. Ultimately, her tale is one of resistance. The reader is led to this understanding through the many levels of resistance that underpin the novel: Moira's rebellious response to the patriarchal power structure; Offred's wordplay despite the regime's efforts to control women through language; Offred's numerous acts of defiance inspired by her desire to once again have the freedom to love and be loved.
Moira, as a symbol of female resistance to Gilead, demonstrates a rebellious alternative to the meek acceptance displayed by other female characters. Offred says Moira is "lava beneath the crust of daily life"(143). This figurative language informs the reader that Moira is a powerful force who can rise suddenly from her lowly female role, defy the regime and knock over, bury or ignite all in her path. The ability of lava to knock over and bury aligns with Moira's overpowering and abandoning of an Aunt during her second escape attempt. Lava's ability to ignite is also important as it creates an image of a woman who can fire up and influence those around her. Offred felt that "In the light of Moira, the Aunts were less fearsome and more absurd. Their power had a flaw to it (143)." Further to this identity of a rebel, Moira is a lesbian, rejecting male-female sexual interaction, the only kind that Gilead values. Her choice to work at Jezebel's gives her access to lesbian sex enabling her to continue to rebel with her sexuality. Moira's refusal to conform and her attempts at escape highlight that rebellion is an alternative to meek acceptance of patriarchal power.
Offred's wordplay throughout the novel is her silent rebellion against the efforts of Gilead to control women through language.