Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is the story of a lady in "reduced circumstances" (101). Offred is a woman on a journey through a culture not too far from our present one. A culture built upon the bodies of white childbearing women, common women, unnamed, unknown and untraceable. As a Handmaid of the Republic of Gilead, Offred's purpose is to serve as a surrogate mother to the dwindling white North American regime. On her journey through this history, Offred witnesses the rise of the misogynistic regime as a U.S. citizen. She watches as women's rights are supplanted and substituted as women become newly indoctrinated Handmaids. In her Commander's household she sees the roles cast for her fellow women in this new society; and she learns the secret truth of Gilead as she steps further and further into outward conformity and inward rebellion. All of these effects inflicted upon Offred are viewed as necessary for the common purpose of protecting women in Gilead from rape and murder, as well as ensuring that its population continues to thrive. Although the end result for which Gilead is striving is certainly good, many side effects bring to question its high opportunity cost, namely the livelihood of newly inducted Handmaids.
Offred learns that nothing in our society has really changed, despite all appearances to the contrary. The truth is, Offred's culture has merely calcified and named the growing trends apparent in our contemporary society, to the detriment of all womankind. Through Offred, Atwood participates in an ongoing feminist process by recounting a mythic woman's history, and by accounting for the methods used by a culture set on nullifying women as people. But it is not male-dominated political history Offred is interested in reporting, it is the repercussions of the Gileadean social structure upon women that involves every sentence of her narrative. Offred's Commander insists, during his secret talks with her, that the new social arrangements are for the betterment of womankind.