The central conflict of
For most of the novel, Offred remains passive. When she finds an opportunity to express herself, she takes it: for instance, she seizes chances to talk to Moira at the Red Center and at Jezebel’s, and she accepts the Commander’s invitation to see him alone. However, at no point does she take an active stand against the regime. The novel contrasts Offred’s passivity with the active resistance of her mother, who joins feminist “Take Back the Night” marches. Other active resisters include Moira, who escapes from the Red Center, and Ofglen, who is a member of the rebel group Mayday. Offred’s conflict with the regime is less dramatic. Simply by preserving her memories and faithfully witnessing what happens to her, she tries to maintain own identity. The novel argues that Offred’s minimal resistance is all that can be expected of most oppressed people, and that her resistance has value.
The novel’s climax arrives when Offred gives in to the urge to express the part of herself which has been most repressed: her sexual desire. Her desire for Nick is doubly forbidden. Under the Gileadean regime, Offred is forbidden from touching any man apart from the Commander. She is also held back by her personal loyalty to Luke, which, the novel suggests, is another form of male control, albeit a mild one. The fact that Offred gives in to her desire, despite her fear and passivity, suggests that desire cannot be entirely repressed by any means. Offred escapes from her situation not because of any active effort on her part, but because Nick needs to get rid of her in order to protect himself. Offred remains passive to the end, but she manages to maintain her sense of herself as a person. The evidence is the book itself, Offred’s first-person account of who she is and who she has been.