Offred's mother is a supporting character in The Handmaid's Tale. Before the rise of the Republic of Gilead, she was a staunch second-wave feminist and women's rights activist. She was photographed working on a toxic waste farm most likely as a slave it is still unknown if she is alive.
First come the title and some names, blacked out on the ɹlm with a crayon so we can’t read them, and then I see my mother. My young mother, younger than I remember her, as young as she must have been once before I was born. She’s wearing the kind of outɹt Aunt Lydia told us was typical of Unwomen in those days, overall jeans with a green and mauve plaid shirt underneath and sneakers on her feet; the sort of thing Moira once wore, the sort of thing I can remember wearing, long ago, myself. Her hair is tucked into a mauve kerchief tied behind her head. Her face is very young, very serious, even pretty. I’ve forgotten my mother was once as pretty and as earnest as that. She’s in a group of other women, dressed in the same fashion; she’s holding a stick, no, it’s part of a banner, the handle. The camera pans up and we see the writing, in paint on what must have been a bedsheet: TAKE BACK THE NIGHT. This hasn’t been blacked out, even though we aren’t supposed to be reading. The women around me breathe in, there’s a stirring in the room, like wind over grass. Is this an oversight, have we gotten away with something? Or is this a thing we’re intended to see, to remind us of the old days of no safety? Behind this sign there are other signs, and the camera notices them brieɻy: FREEDOM TO CHOOSE. EVERY BABY A WANTED BABY. RECAPTURE OUR BODIES. DO YOU BELIEVE A WOMAN’S PLACE IS ON THE KITCHEN TABLE? Under the last sign there’s a line drawing of a woman’s body, lying on a table, blood dripping out of it.
Now my mother is moving forward, she’s smiling, laughing, they all move forward, and now they’re raising their ɹsts in the air. The camera moves to the sky, where hundreds of balloons rise, trailing their strings: red balloons, with a circle painted on them, a circle with a stem like the stem of an apple, the stem is a cross. Back on the earth, my mother is part of the crowd now, and I can’t see her any more. I had you when I was thirty-seven, my mother said. It was a risk, you could have been deformed or something. You were a wanted child, all right, and did I get shit from some quarters! My oldest buddy Tricia Foreman accused me of being pro-natalist, the bitch. Jealousy, I put that down to. Some of the others were okay though. But when I was six months’ pregnant, a lot of them started sending me these articles about how the birth defect rate went zooming up after thirty-ɹve. Just what I needed. And stuʃ about how hard it was to be a single parent. Fuck that shit, I told them, I’ve started this and I’m going to ɹnish it. At the hospital they wrote down “Aged Primipara” on the chart, I caught them in the act. That’s what they call you when it’s your ɹrst baby over thirty, over thirty for godsake. Garbage, I told them, biologically I’m twenty-two, I could run rings around you any day. I could have triplets and walk out of here while you were still trying to get up off the bed.
When she said that she’d jut out her chin. I remember her like that, her chin jutted out, a drink in front of her on the kitchen table; not young and earnest and pretty the way she was in the movie, but wiry, spunky, the kind of old woman who won’t let anyone butt in front of her in a supermarket line. She liked to come over to my house and have a drink while Luke and I were ɹxing dinner and tell us what was wrong with her life, which always turned into what was wrong with ours. Her hair was grey by that time, of course. She wouldn’t dye it. Why pretend, she’d say. Anyway what do I need it for, I don’t want a man around, what use are they except for ten seconds’ worth of half babies. A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women. Not that your father wasn’t a nice guy and all, but he wasn’t up to fatherhood. Not that I expected it of him. Just do the job, then you can bugger oʃ, I said, I make a decent salary, I can aʃord daycare. So he went to the coast and sent Christmas cards. He had beautiful blue eyes though. But there’s something missing in them, even the nice ones. It’s like they’re permanently absent-minded, like they can’t quite remember who they are. They look at the sky too much. They lose touch with their feet. They aren’t a patch on a woman except they’re better at ɹxing cars and playing football, just what we need for the improvement of the human race, right? That was the way she talked, even in front of Luke. He didn’t mind, he teased her by pretending to be macho, he’d tell her women were incapable of abstract thought and she’d have another drink and grin at him. Chauvinist pig, she’d say. Isn’t she quaint, Luke would say to me, and my mother would look sly, furtive almost. I’m entitled, she’d say. I’m old enough, I’ve paid my dues, it’s time for me to be quaint. You’re still wet behind the ears. Piglet, I should have said. As for you, she’d say to me, you’re just a backlash. Flash in the pan. History will absolve me. But she wouldn’t say things like that until after the third drink. You young people don’t appreciate things, she’d say. You don’t know what we had to go through, just to get you where you are. Look at him, slicing up the carrots. Don’t you know how many women’s lives, how many women’s bodies, the tanks had to roll over just to get that far? Cooking’s my hobby, Luke would say. I enjoy it. Hobby, schmobby, my mother would say. You don’t have to make excuses to me. Once upon a time you wouldn’t have been allowed to have such a hobby, they’d have called you queer. Now, Mother, I would say. Let’s not get into an argument about nothing. Nothing, she’d say bitterly. You call it nothing. You don’t understand, do you. You don’t understand at all what I’m talking about. Sometimes she would cry. I was so lonely, she’d say. You have no idea how lonely I was. And I had friends, I was a lucky one, but I was lonely anyway. I admired my mother in some ways, although things between us were never easy. She expected too much from me, I felt. She expected me to vindicate her life for her, and the choices she’d made. I didn’t want to live my life on her terms. I didn’t want to be the model oʃspring, the incarnation of her ideas. We used to ɹght about that. I am not your justification for existence, I said to her once. I want her back. I want everything back, the way it was. But there is no point to it, this wanting.(20)
Before Gilead Edit
Offred's mother seemed to have a low opinion of men for what she saw as their oppression and abuse of women, and was a firm, almost militant support of the women's rights movement. She was heavily involved in the movement as a young woman, including participating in Take Back the Night marches and pro-choice rallies. Offred's mother wanted a child but was uninterested in getting married. She slept with Offred's father solely to get pregnant and allowed him to be as involved as he wanted to be.
Offred's mother tried to instill her own values into her daughter, on one occasion even taking her to anti-pornography rally and persuading her to burn a magazine, but Offred was resistant, viewing her mother as too radical and believing women were already equals. Offred's mother was frustrated by this, saying her daughter took her freedom and rights for granted. She often spoke of wanting a separate state for women, to be 'free' from patriarchy. Despite her views on men, Offred's mother seemed to get on surprisingly well with her son-in-law Luke, with them exchanging banter and gently teasing each other.
After Gilead Edit
When Gilead began its takeover of the United States, Offred tried to contact her mother, to no avail. She and Luke discovered her flat empty and ransacked, with Offred's mother having apparently been arrested by the regime for her views and political activism. Offred feared her mother was dead. However, Moira reveals years later that she saw Offred's mother in footage of the Colonies. Offred expresses relief at first until Moira points out that her mother would probably be better off dead, due to the harsh and unsanitary conditions in the Colonies. Offred, horrified, realises that Moira is probably right. It is not known what happened to Offred's mother, though it can be assumed she ultimately died of sickness in the Colonies.
|Chapter 2||Offred (Novel) | Aunt Sara | Aunt Elizabeth (Novel) | Alma (Novel) | Janine (Novel) | Dolores (Novel) | Moira (Novel) | June (Novel) | Aunt Lydia (Novel) | Rita | Cora (Novel) | Luke (Novel) ||
|Commander (Novel) | Serena Joy (Novel) ||
|Nick | Ofglen | 5: Janine 7: Offred's Mother | Offred's (First) Daughter | Angela|