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The Handmaid's Tale

Characters

Serena Joy

Characters Serena Joy

Though the Commander's wife, Serena Joy, had been an advocate for "traditional values" and the establishment of the Gileadean state, she is bitter at the outcome. She is confined to her home and forced to take in a Handmaid to try to conceive a child with her husband. Serena’s obvious unhappiness means that she teeters on the edge of inspiring the reader's sympathy, but she forfeits that sympathy by taking out her anger on Offred. Serena Joy seems to possess no compassion at all for Offred. She can see the difficulty of her own life, but not that of another woman.

The climactic moment in Serena’s interaction with Offred comes when Serena arranges for Offred to sleep with Nick. Serena is willing to break the rules to help Offred get pregnant, which may seem generous, but Serena benefits from Offred’s pregnancy because it will be her baby after it's born. Furthermore, Serena’s offer to show Offred a picture of her lost daughter if she sleeps with Nick reveals that Serena has always known where Offred's daughter was. Not only has she cruelly concealed this knowledge, but she exploits Offred’s loss of a child to try to obtain a child of her own. Serena’s lack of sympathy makes her the perfect tool for Gilead’s social order, which relies on the willingness of women to oppress other women. She is a cruel, selfish woman, and Atwood implies that such women are the glue that binds Gilead.